Brilliant chapter image by SwissMiss @ TDA - except not really because photobucket is the newest bane of my existence and turned all of these lovely chapter images into a pile of broken links.
Sirius Black was a naturally energetic man, and as he could not put his liveliness to good use being shut up inside his parent’s nausea-inducing house, he was restless. He was agitated. He looked at the clock often and wished it were tomorrow already and Nora was back.
He puttered up and down the stairs, picking fights with various portraits and enjoying the reactions on their scrubby little faces when he cried “Stupefy!” and sent them running out of their frames. He groomed Buckbeak and fed him a pail of dead rats, but the giant brute was feeling put out with Sirius these days; he was edgy as well and resented not being able to fly.
“I know, mate,” Sirius sighed. “I wish I could let you out, but we’ve got to lay low for awhile. ”Buckbeak grunted in response, laying his head down on the floor and closing his eyes.
Kreacher was nowhere to be seen, as usual; but Sirius didn’t want to look at that filthy little cockroach anyway, and had been staring impassively at the bleak fireplace in the sitting room, emptying glass after glass of Butterbeer with a scowl on his face when an idea suddenly occurred to him.
He got up and scooped a few pinches of emerald green dust from a flowerpot above the fireplace, then crouched low on the stone hearth. Sticking his head inside, he tossed the gritty powder into the logs and shouted, “Thirty Eleven Hackwing Lane!”
He felt like his head was severed from his body and sucked through another dimension, the pressure caving in around his jaw and eyesockets. After a dizzying several seconds he opened his eyes again, this time seeing straight through Remus Lupin’s upstairs parlor room. It was rather small and dingy – the house had been passed down through many generations much like Number Twelve, and showed unmistakable signs of abuse from a werewolf. The stuffing was torn out of an ancient pink armchair, and he saw mismatched table legs holding up a pile of gingerly pieced-together wood. But no matter how many damage-reversal spells and Spellotape Remus used, there was no denying the air of general disaster. A pair of legs and some tattered shoes walked by, oblivious to his guest.
“Need to clean out this fireplace, Moony,” Sirius called, and the pair of legs stopped cold, turning toward him and growing larger. Remus bent over to see him, his eyes large but unsurprised. “I see you’ve been eating chairs again.”
“Using the Floo Network?” Lupin mused. “Well, you’ve always been reckless, Padfoot. Don’t see why a ten thousand galleon reward for your head and the dementor’s Kiss should get in your way.”
“Minor details, my friend,” Sirius said loftily, his hand back in Grimmauld Place brandishing the air as if to mimic the unimportance of such matters. “What’re you doing, anyway?”
“I was going to make some tea and read a book.”
“You can have tea at my house. I’m dead bored.”
Lupin shook his head warily. “I suppose so, if it gets your head out of my fireplace.” He stood up, obscuring his face from view. “I’ll go disapparate, then. See you in a mo’.”
Sirius grinned and tugged his head out of Remus’s parlor to join the rest of his body, falling back on the floor from a bit too much force. His knees and neck were sore from the uncomfortable position, but he ignored this and bounced down to the kitchen to fix some tea, the day instantly brightening.
By the time he’d gotten everything ready, Remus was already sitting at the wooden table, watching him with those hazel eyes that didn’t miss a thing. He’d swiftly deduced that Sirius was feeling antsy because Nora was off doing risky work for the Order, and he knew better than to leave his friend alone during such a time. Sirius was known to do very, very stupid things when desperate.
Sirius joined him and slid over a cup of tea, beaming. “Tonks came over to see Nora recently.”
Something flickered in Remus’s eyes, and his reasonable sense warned him not to get too excited. “Did she?” he replied as tonelessly as possible.
“Good news, mate. Your Metamorphmagus mistress wants you for all eternity. Out of her mind crazy about you. Over the moon – and you’ve got to appreciate the irony in that one.”
Lupin sighed, looking older and greyer than ever. “That’s not quite the answer I wanted to hear.”
“Don’t be a prat, Remus. At least yours likes you back.”
Lupin studied his friend, who was turning his teacup round and round and looking sullen. “And you don’t think yours likes you?”
“Why should she?” Sirius murmured. “Look at her; look at me. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I haven’t got a shot in hell.”
“So you’re really keen on her, then?” Remus asked shrewdly.
“Ever since the first day I saw her, when Diggle brought her over to be introduced to the rest of the Order,” Sirius admitted. “Couldn’t stop myself from feeling otherwise. But these days it’s just downright agony, talking to her all day and watching her walk around my house, sleeping right under my roof, and yet not having her.”
“Better to stew in unrequited love than to have it right there in your face and turn your back on it.” Remus drank deeply, his eyes faraway.
“Are you barking?” Sirius exclaimed. “I think you’re a bloody moron, the way you’re handling this situation with Tonks. If Nora wanted me I damn well wouldn’t be trying to talk her out of it. Sure, it would imply that she has bizarre taste, but who cares? I’m selfish and I want her!” Remus drummed his fingers on the table to signal Sirius’s evident poor judgment of his predicament, but Sirius rambled on. “The whole idea of Nora liking me is ludicrous, but in an alternate galaxy where beautiful young women are attracted to lackluster old outcasts…” he trailed off, his eyes catching Remus’s and bursting out laughing. “Well! Looks like we’re in that galaxy, after all. Don’t werewolves have all the luck.”
“Tonks and I cannot be together,” Remus said shortly. “I could never do that to her…it would ruin her career, her social life, everything...”
“Don’t think she cares, really,” Sirius pointed out.
Remus glowered. “That’s because she hasn’t thought it out thoroughly. She’s not seeing the reality of what would happen if she became involved with a werewolf. I can just imagine Andromeda and Ted’s faces if they were to see their daughter with me. She could kiss her job at the Ministry goodbye; Tonks would virtually fall off the planet with me. I don’t want that for her.”
“The only people who matter to her are those who love you as well,” Sirius told him. “The rest of the Order admires you and cares about you – we need you. And Andromeda is one of the most understanding people I know. I can’t picture her being prejudiced about something you can’t control.”
Remus was quiet for an immeasurable amount of time. “Oh, love is miserable.”
Sirius nodded, frowning in thought. “So you’re going to just jilt Tonks instead of indulging your own desires for once, and meanwhile I’m stuck here suffering over Nora and watching her go about her business completely unaware of my affections.”
“Look at who the moron is now,” Remus commented, smirking cynically. When Sirius only looked perplexed, Remus added, “You are so sure that Nora is indifferent. But I’m not convinced.”
Sirius felt ominous. Friends were supposed to root for each other, encourage each other to keep faith and keep trying. But Remus putting ideas into Sirius’s head was not something he wanted. He was afraid to hope, because that would make rejection all the more painful in the end. Yet, he could not stop himself from replying, “How so?”
“My sources inform me that Nora was offered free houseroom in London – which as I might remind you, is right where you are as well – while she was merely a visitor here with the Weasleys. And after she rejected this offer, she accepted yours not three days later. This means that Nora did not move to Grimmauld Place only because of its connection to the Order and convenient distance from Diagon Alley and the Ministry. The owner of the house was the impacting factor here.”
“Who else offered?”
Remus leaned back, his hazel gaze sparkling as one’s does when they’re on the verge of spilling some remarkably juicy news. “I did.”
Sirius did not disappoint in his reaction, his eyes widening as he stretched far over the table to examine his friend. “You’re not lying!” he accused. “What’d you go and do that for? You’ve fancied Tonks for the past year! Don’t go telling me you like both of them; I don’t think I could stand the thought of two perfectly eligible women going to waste –”
“Hold it.” Remus raised his hand outward, trying to suppress a grin. “Calm down, Padfoot. I did it for you.”
“Me? Me! How in Merlin’s pants could Nora prancing around with you be favorable for me?”
“I watched you,” Lupin explained before Sirius had the opportunity to reach out and begin pummeling him as he looked ready to do. “With Nora. At first I thought perhaps you were just looking at her rather often because she reminded you of Gideon, but that didn’t add up because Nora really doesn’t look very much like him and you were always a bit patchy with Petula. So I looked more closely.
“The day it really struck me that you were developing a crush on her was when I dropped by to look for my old Foe Glass, which I’d lost and figured might be somewhere around here. Molly and Arthur had gone to Diagon Alley with the children to buy their school supplies, and it was just you and Nora in the house. I was scraping around in the attic because I suspected Kreacher of nicking it and hiding it up there, and when I came out you were standing below me on the third landing. You didn’t see me.”
Sirius’s eyes were glazed, trying to remember. “Nora was in the entrance corridor, singing to herself while she dusted off the torches on the wall, and you were watching her over the banister,” Remus prompted, and Sirius’s pupils sparked with recollection. “And the look on your face…”
Sirius could imagine what he must have looked like, judging by how he had felt. It was like all of his insides heated up, and he had felt hypnotized. Something deep inside his heart blossomed, filling up the blackness with an invigorating, reviving power. Watching that seemingly harmless woman – so enticingly pretty, so clever, so caring, and yet who harbored a violent tempest of rage against those Death Eaters she so ardently wished to gouge apart with her bare hands – it was an awakening. He had come back from the dead.
“Honestly, Sirius, I had never seen an expression like that on your face. Not before Azkaban, not at Hogwarts – never. If you ever had it, I never saw it. But the way you looked at Nora, I knew I couldn’t just let her go back to Muriel’s at the start of term when Molly and Arthur were also due to return home. Muriel lives in the country and you’d barely ever see her. Nora made no secret out of hating Muriel’s home, so I assumed it would be more than simple to convince her to move in with me. This way, I could invite her to come along whenever I went to visit you. And I planned to do so often, to give you more chances of having that look on your face.” He paused, his eyes soft. “I do so wanted to see you happy. You’ve smiled more in the past month than you have in the past three years.”
“More like the past fifteen,” Sirius remarked. He gazed hesitantly at Lupin, knowing he shouldn’t keep feeding his optimism but still powerless not to. “And she told you no?”
Lupin laughed. “She didn’t even consider it,” he said. “I reminded her that I have access to loads of Wolfsbane Potion now and she needn’t worry about me attacking her. I told Nora that since I take that potion, when I transform all I do is curl up in my bedroom until the moon wanes; that I become about as ferocious as a kitten. I wasn’t worried about Nora being rejected by society because she had rejected society herself – she has no ties to the Ministry or people who hate werewolves. And she had been so genuinely nice to me that a refusal never even crossed my mind. But she said Muriel would be very upset with her if she didn’t come back.”
“And this was three days before I asked her?” Sirius pressed.
Lupin cocked his head. “Now you mention it, I think it was only two. But yeah, she turned me down flat and when I heard she was moving in with you, I couldn’t believe my ears. I was pleased, of course, but I’d be lying if I said my pride didn’t take a hit.” Sirius laughed and Remus muttered, “Deceptive little thing, she is.”
Sirius just stared at the wall, a giddiness transcending his demeanor. Did this mean he dared hope? No, he internally responded. Those are dangerous waters, Sirius. Don’t go there. You’ll drown.
Nora woke up from her brief nap, opening one eye first and then the other. Right on time, she thought with a chirp. Two blue-robed workers filtered out of the phone booth that served as a secret visitor’s entrance to the Ministry of Magic, which was used more often now than usual because it wasn’t connected to the Floo Network like the other entrances, and people did not want their homes being watched. It was quitting time and Nora’s night was just beginning.
As if on cue, Nora clamped her beak around an envelope Sirius had addressed (“Just write a fake letter,” she had instructed him, as she liked his penmanship far better than her own. “Delivering post is my way in.”) and hurtled not quite gracefully from her perch. On the cover of the envelope Sirius had directed it to Arthur Weasley in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office. This phony letter, however, would never get to Arthur.
She tottered inside the phone booth just as a skinny man with knobbly knees and a pleasant-looking woman popped out of the lift from the other side. “Ah, cutting it rather close, aren’t we, handsome little fellow?” the man said to Nora. “Delivering mail right at the end of the workday?”
“Apparently someone didn’t get the memo that owls are meant to be used from home to home correspondences only,” the woman guessed. “Don’t see too many here these days with the new ban on them, unless you’re on the Wiz and can do whatever you please. Wonder who it’s addressed to?” Nora inferred that ‘the Wiz’ must be short for Wizengamot – the Wizarding High Court.
The man peered forward. “Arthur Weasley.” They exchanged looks.
“Well, he always was a bit of an oddball, not too tolerant of change.” The woman sighed.
“Weasley’s still in his office; I could go give it to him now,” the man suggested. He made to take the letter from Nora and she screeched, flapping her wings. He immediately withdrew. “Never mind, then. Suppose I better just let him in.” He pressed a button on the phone and they descended into the Atrium, where she turned up her beak and ruffled her feathers irately. He was nice to have helped her get in, but Nora was quite obviously a female owl.
Once inside the vast atrium of the Ministry of Magic, Nora did not waste time enjoying the scenery. She’d been here loads of times with Arthur before, and used to sit and play on the fountain as a child, occasionally playing Gobstones on the dark wooden floors and lying back to admire the peacock-blue ceiling full of golden symbols that moved and swirled. No, there were much more important things to be getting on with than skipping down memory lane.
She wondered idly what her uncle would say if someone had informed him ten years ago that his little niece would someday be running around as part of the Order of the Phoenix, doing hazardous missions right under his nose and being treated as one of them – as one of the adults. But out of everyone in her life, Molly had been the one against her involvement with the Order. She couldn’t stand the idea of her deceased brother’s only child getting hurt, and Molly had been like a surrogate mother.
Shaking off these distracting thoughts, Nora scurried across the slick floor between people’s legs, where she figured she might be less noticeable. Indeed, the waddling little snowy owl with a fake letter clipped tightly in her mouth remained unseen. Now the only thing to do was find a nice little utility cupboard to camp out in until the building emptied. After wandering through several halls, however, Nora was forced to the conclusion that people did not just leave random cupboard doors open and as she did not have fingers, finding a hiding place would be tricky. Starting to panic, she made an involuntary hooting sound and got the attention of a tall, dark-skinned man striding along nearby.
She had never been so glad to see Kingsley Shacklebolt in all her life.
“Ahh, it’s you, then.” He whispered, extending his arm for her to fly onto. She gripped his sleeve as lightly with her talons as possible, very thankful. “I wish we could all have such a marvelous disguise,” he told her, glancing at the envelope in her beak. “It would make our watches so much easier. And speaking of Arthur Weasley in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office, his office would be a good place for you to hide out in. Magical Maintenance never bothers to go in there.”
Kingsley climbed into a lift, which ironically enough was occupied with Tonks and Arthur Weasley, accompanied by another man she recognized from The Daily Prophet to be Dirk Cresswell, the Head of Goblin Liaison Office. And although they could not all acknowledge each other (Kingsley and Tonks had to pretend to dislike Arthur to throw any suspicions off their trail), Arthur and Tonks gave her a wink and she hooted twice before Kingsley stepped off the lift onto level two, which was the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. This floor contained the Improper Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters, and Wizengamot Administration Services.
They curved around a series of twists and turns, passing the Auror cubicles where Kingsley had just departed from. “Alright there, Shacklebolt?” someone called. Nora could not see who the voice belonged to, as she was on Kingsley’s left arm and his large build blocked the speaker from view. “You forget something?”
“Yes, I just needed a word with someone,” Kingsley replied steadily, stepping up his pace.
As they passed, Nora swiveled her head around to get a look at the other person, and knew him straightaway as Dawlish, an Auror with short, bristly hair. She remembered that he used to always have pocketfuls of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, and wondered why Kingsley was being standoffish to him. Wasn’t Dawlish a member of the Order as well? No one had been lingering nearby and she couldn’t figure out what was afoot.
She was still puzzling over this when Kingsley finally led her into the dilapidated hallway where Arthur Weasley’s office was located and slipped inside the tiny room without windows. Not much here had changed since Nora was a little girl; piles of paperwork still towered all the way up to the ceiling, with various Muggle objects like fellytone cords and pictures of vehicles and big heavy boxes Muggle people stick their food in to warm it up in a hurry.
Kingsley couldn’t slide into the room all the way or shut the door because he was too big and would knock stuff over, so after Nora flew to sit on a pile of newspaper clippings on a cluttered desk, he whispered, “It’s best if you stay an owl for as long as you can. Don’t talk to anyone you see tonight, no matter what they look like. Even if it’s me. Do you understand?”
“We believe Dawlish may be Imperiused,” he elaborated. “It could happen to any of us. And for the time being, we really can’t let him in on anything in the Order because it could get round to You-Know-Who. So stay in here until the Ministry’s deserted and then go down to your shift. Hoot once if you know where you’re supposed to go.”
Nora gave another hoot.
“Good. In the morning, there won’t be any danger of Death Eaters trying to sneak in. Someone’s always in the Ministry during daytime, even on the weekends, and You-Know-Who’s not going to attempt a break-in with too many witnesses hanging around. Elphias Doge is going to come and relieve you when we know it’s late and safe enough to leave the door unmanned. If he says, ‘mandrake’, then he’s Doge. If he doesn’t know the password, fire a jinx at him, turn back into an owl, and get out. Do you understand?”
She hooted again.
“Alright, then. If all goes well, and I don’t see why it should be any different from any other night, you’ll just be very bored. Boring is great, that’s what we want. The goal is to have no action whatsoever. Do whatever you can to make sure you don’t fall asleep, but no wandering away from your post – stay on guard at all times. And don’t make too much noise, just in case. I’m going to get out of here now so I don’t get locked in. See you later, Prewett.”
Kingsley nodded seriously to her and then left, closing the door. Nora was now sitting in a dark, empty room stocked with Muggle junk, all alone. Now would be a good a time as any, she presumed, and despite Kingsley’s warnings she transformed back into a young woman. It felt fantastic to have hands again, even if she did feel about ten tons heavier and too bulky, but that would wear off. She reached over and locked the door. Pulling her wand out of her pocket, Nora murmured, “Lumos.”
She then dug a pair of Extendable Ears out of her back pocket and scanned the room. Behind Perkins’ desk there was a vent, and when she slipped one half of the Extendables through it, she could hear all the way down into the Atrium. Nora also placed her lights-only Sneakoscope (the kind that did not make noise when an untrustworthy person was near, it only flashed various colors) next to the door in clear view.
She read a few old Muggle magazines while waiting for the noises of Magical Maintenance to clear out. When she had gone through all of the interesting reading material (‘Find out how to make men fall in love with you!’; ‘Does he like you? Take the quiz inside.’), Nora examined the letter for Arthur out of curiosity to see if Sirius had actually written anything.
When she pulled out the sheet of parchment, she found it was blank. However, when she grazed her fingertips over the surface, she could feel miniscule indentations, as though Sirius had written something on another piece of parchment while it was lying on top of this one, and the impression of it stamped through.
Nora was curious. She burned the meaningless envelope with her wand, carefully containing the fire and siphoning away the smoke, and then she tipped the ashes onto the letter and panned them out. But no matter how she turned the paper or how closely she peered, she couldn’t make out very much except for the word ‘visible’.
She chewed on her bottom lip, wondering.
A-ha! Invisible! Nora shook her head now, feeling foolish, and after dumping the ashes into a dustbin and wiping away the soot, she tapped her wand on the parchment. “Revelio!” she whispered. And the words that had previously been invisible popped out all over the place, crisp black ink in Sirius’s elegant script. She regarded his handwriting for awhile before actually reading it, as it truly was excellent handwriting and her own was a deplorable scratching that her professors from Hogwarts could barely tolerate. More than once she was lectured by an exasperated McGonagall for turning in an essay that was unreadable. Nora now had a special quill that prevented this sort of problem, and will write for you in all sorts of fonts, but she still liked Sirius’s best.
I wonder how long it will take for you to realize that this is not blank parchment after all, but a real letter written in invisible ink! I am going to estimate about two minutes. Was I right? And if you don’t happen to open it and figure it out, then I suppose I am just refreshing my writing skills you hold in such favorable esteem. You told me to write a phony letter. But I don’t think I like the idea of a phony letter, so I’ll just write you a real one.
At the moment, you are trying to find your lights-only Sneakoscope. I can hear you banging around in the drawing room, pulling up cushions and cursing. It’s really very charming. You know, I think I remember seeing your Sneakoscope on the kitchen sideboard…hold on…very well done, Sirius! I have just saved the day. Nora’s sanity has been restored and I may get back to my letter. Which won’t be too exciting, I promise. But you have nothing better to do; you’re on watch at the Ministry and probably quite bored, or at least I hope you’re bored.
And now you’re calling to me from the other room, asking if I’ve seen Kreacher as of late. I respond that I have not, as a matter of fact, and glad of it because I’m bloody well shot of that ghastly little elf. Everything he touches only gets dirtier – I’d like to trade for that Dobby. Too bad he’s at Hogwarts now.
By the by, my godson is having a nasty time at Hogwarts, thanks to that foul Ministry hag and her schemes to ‘revolutionize’ the school. I sincerely hope you do not come across her tomorrow while you’re checking up on Harry, as Harry tells me she is not fond of owls. But if by chance you’re flying out on the grounds and she walks beneath you, feel free to drop a few dead mice on her head. And if you see Snape, could you pick him up and drop him into the lake for me? The giant squid won’t eat slime like that, of course, but Snape’s hair could benefit from a nice washing-out.
You’ve just set up a game of chess on the card table and obliged me to play, so it’s time for me to seal your future self away in my envelope and enjoy real-life Nora while you’re still here. Good luck. Be safe.
Nora smiled. So that’s what he’d been doing yesterday while she was ripping up the drawing room looking for her Sneakoscope. He’d been acting suspiciously, covering up something with his arm whenever she walked by. And here to find out it had been a surprise letter instead of the fake one! It couldn’t have been twenty minutes after he’d finished it that Severus showed up. Nora re-read it a few times, resting her head back into one warm corner where hot air from the vent blew up in her face. It was a nice, cozying sensation and made her feel drowsy, despite her best efforts…
Her eyes flew open.
The corridor was completely dark now, no shaft of light coming under the door. And what was more alarming, the chatter and clomping around of Magical Maintenance employees could no longer be heard through the Extendables. She held one of the fleshy ears up to her own and listened.
Had Nora fallen asleep? It had felt like only a short moment ago that she’d closed her eyes, just to rest them a little. To feel the warm draft of the air vent on her cheeks and eyelids. But alas, there was no more hot air coming from the vent and when she touched it, the metal felt stone-cold.
She had definitely fallen asleep.
Panicking now, Nora flew to her feet, wand at the ready. Alohomora, she thought, and the door clicked, unlocking. She very slowly twisted the handle, and then stuck her nose into the hall. It was refreshing – she’d gotten used to the stuffiness of Arthur’s office over the past who-knows-how-many-long minutes. It was indeed deserted and completely black, but she wasn’t going to take any chances. She silently cast a Disillusionment Charm over herself and then another one over her travelling cloak for good measure, and set off to find the lift again.
Nora had to light her wand so that she could see through the tunnel-like hallways, which worried her. Why didn’t the Order of the Phoenix possess a Hand of Glory so that only the beholder could see? Sometimes she wondered if the Order shouldn’t take a few pages out of a Death Eater’s book, not that she’d ever voice this opinion aloud. The Hand of Glory was imbibed with Dark Magic. No one in the Order would ever touch one. Perhaps this is why Nora felt a bit apart from them; in times like these, she would use whatever she could to her advantage, no matter who crafted it. Most of the Order were so very good, their morals dictating everything.
Nora could try her hardest, but she would never be a Dumbledore.
She clambered inside the lift and banged the number nine button with her fist. The golden grilles rattled shut and Nora began falling, very rapidly for two seconds, then slowly again, grinding and halting and speeding. A wave of nausea swept over her, and it probably didn’t help that her stomach was empty except for the pumpkin pasty from early that morning. Why hadn’t she thought to bring a snack? In her eagerness to do something for the Order, Nora had completely forgotten she wouldn’t be having a proper meal for the rest of the day, and she also napped on the job and was running late. How very professional.
When the grilles slid open again, a female voice said, “Department of Mysteries” and she stepped out, grateful to be standing on a solid foundation again. Nora held her wand aloft, studying Mad-Eye’s map come to life.
The corridor was long and cave-like, with no portraits or doors on either side, just rows of unlit torches ranging down the walls, growing smaller and smaller in the murky blackness. It didn’t even have windows bewitched to look like the Ministry was above-ground, like on the other floors. And at the very end, although she could not see it from here, she knew there was a plain black door and a small opening off to the left, which led down a flight of stairs into the old courtrooms.
Nora edged apprehensively closer to the end of the corridor, feeling unexpectedly afraid about what could be awaiting her in the shadows. Perspiration dotted her neck and she stretched her wand out as far as possible until her muscles ached, trying to see farther ahead.
It was a relieving and anticlimactic moment when she reached her destination and found it blessedly empty. No one had broken into the Department of Mysteries. Voldemort would not get his hands on the Prophecy tonight.
Nora lit the two last torches on the wall and examined her surroundings. She was not to enter the Department of Mysteries unless the Prophecy was threatened, and she had no desire to break that rule. Glancing to the left of the door, however, and down the flight of stairs, she spotted a rickety old chair covered with splotches of silver paint. It was folded and leaning against the wall on a narrow landing, and next to it on the floor were two sturdy brushes and a metal can of paint.
She aimed her wand. Accio chair!
It zoomed so unexpectedly fast that it nearly hit the wall behind her – she caught it just in time, however, and plunked down onto it. Now all she had to do was sit quietly.
Nora tapped her foot a little.
She shifted her legs. Crossed her ankles. Cracked her knuckles (Tonks would be blanching; she hated that habit). Pulled out Sirius’s letter to read repeatedly, tracing the fine curves of his letters and memorizing the way his ‘N’ for ‘Nora’ was larger than any other letter ‘N’, that it matched only the size of ‘S’ in ‘Sirius’. Nora scrutinized the letter over and over again, disappointed by the obvious air of friendliness and nothing more, dwelling on the way he wrote her name with those soft strokes from his quill. The flaring torchlight was incredibly dim and her eyes hurt from squinting at the parchment. Nora was not yet sleepy, but there were hours to go…
It was going to be a long night.
Sirius couldn’t possibly be expected to sleep on a night like this. Lupin had gone home hours ago, and the fleeting cheerfulness he’d felt gone as well. He’d been given too much time alone to think, and he was fidgety and going spare over Nora. What was she doing now? Had she already read the letter written in invisible ink? Would tonight be the night, out of all other nights, that Voldemort would try to claim the Prophecy? He would blast her out of the way without a thought, wouldn’t spare two seconds on her…
“No,” he said out loud. “Stop thinking like that, you’re going to make yourself insane.”
Sirius ambled up and down the stairs, brewing a pot of tea and then leaving it cold and untouched. He devoured at least a dozen peppermint Licorice Wands, his go-to candy that always made him feel better on any other night except this one. He checked in on Buckbeak several times, much to the animal’s dismay, as he did not appreciate being woken.
Just as Sirius was straightening up items in his wardrobe for the seventh time and was about to jog back down the stairs for something else to do, he spotted Nora’s open bedroom door. And although he knew he should definitely keep away, Sirius felt irresistibly drawn to the place where Nora slept, to her own private living quarters.
The room was a shade untidy, with a spirit of happy disarray about it. Freshly-laundered robes had been stuffed haphazardly into a drawer that was already overflowing, and yet more robes were slung over the headboard, indicating that she’d been in a rush to find something in particular to wear that morning. A few of her books were askew on the shelf, some of them spread out on the floor with certain words and phrases she liked highlighted with an acid yellow quill.
Loose and unfettered in Nora’s bedroom, Sirius could openly snoop through whatever he pleased. But he found that all he wanted to do was simply sit down on the edge of her four-poster bed. Nora wasn’t here. Her essence was all over the room, but he didn’t regain that tightening in his throat, the palpable heartbeat in his Adam’s apple like the night he’d looked in on Nora and saw her asleep. He didn’t know what he thought would happen when he came in here, but all he found was an empty room. The most important element to it was missing.
The moon outside the wide window was high, though choked with mist and clouds, and everything in Nora’s room was alive with a hazy sapphire radiance. Sirius outlined the worn shape of Nora’s head on her fluffy pillow with his fingers, feeling even worse and more alone than ever. What had he expected to find? A diary in plain sight filled with Sirius’s name in big, bold letters and embellished with hearts? He shook his head abysmally, regretting having come in at all. Distractedly he toyed with the knob of her nightstand’s drawer and pulled it open.
His heart stopped.
It couldn’t be. But then…he peered closer. And yes, there it was, folded neatly in the center of Nora’s treasures. There was a photograph of her family before Gideon had been murdered, a birthday card from Frank and Alice Longbottom; there was Gideon’s wand, a key to a Gringott’s vault, Fabian Prewett’s Order of Merlin, bestowed too late. And nestled right in the middle of it all was a square of white silk.
Sirius felt his insides go soft.
This was the white flag he’d popped out of the end of his wand as joke of mock surrender, something he’d done in the kitchen last week after he’d teased Nora about her burnt supper for the Order. He hadn’t given it a second’s thought afterward, didn’t even notice that she had taken it. But here it was, mixed in with Nora’s most beloved possessions – a napkin next to an Order of Merlin. Nora must have bewitched it so that it would never disappear, as most conjured items do after a few hours.
Bathed in the blue moonlight of Nora’s vacant room, Sirius felt calm for the first time that day. This seemingly meaningless token flooded him with a sense of peace, and a hope that Remus’s words had not managed to evoke. He took it and turned it over in his hands.
Certainly, if there was nothing in this drawer concerning Tonks, who had been Nora’s best friend for ten years, then a piece of silk she’d plucked off the kitchen floor that had been made by a man she’d only known a couple of months must mean something. It meant Sirius had achieved a status of honor within Nora, someone special and worth guarding close to her heart. Only when a cool breeze travelled through the open window and caressed his face did Sirius realize his eyes were wet.
Gently he re-folded the white cloth and placed it exactly where it had been, closed the drawer and then smoothed Nora’s duvet. He was just slipping the door closed when he heard an ear-shattering shriek and scraping of knives at the bedroom window. Sirius ran forward, wand out menacingly, and slashed away the curtains.
It was Hedwig, Harry’s owl. The ‘knives’ were thankfully only her talons.
Sirius exhaled in relief and pried open Nora’s shutters, inviting the animal inside. “You haven’t seen any other white owls, by any chance?” he mused. Hedwig clucked her beak impatiently and glared at him, clearly wanting something to eat and probably annoyed that Harry sent her out on a delivery at this hour.
The house-elf popped in front of him with a crack, looking as revolting as ever in the grubby tea towel and muttering to himself. “Master,” he croaked, twitching involuntarily into a bow. And then he seemed to become aware of his surroundings, and stared fixedly at Sirius with his bulging eyes. “Master is in the room where the worthless half-blood sleeps, where Andromeda lived when Kreacher was small. The filthy half-blood is not at home and Kreacher wonders what Master is doing in here.”
“Never you mind,” Sirius snapped. “Make yourself useful and fetch some food for this owl.” He jerked his head at Hedwig and then picked up the letter she had brought him, which was left lying on the floor. Kreacher left, with Hedwig soaring off after him, and Sirius slit open the envelope. He then shut the window again and trekked downstairs, reading as he went.
As his eyes scanned further and further down the letter, his grin spread wider. By the time Harry was finished repeating the tale of their feathery friend attacking the Undersecretary to the Ministry of Magic and Draco Malfoy, Sirius had collapsed against a wall and fell to the floor, laughing harder than he had in years.
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