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Chapter 11 : The Dark Lord's Most Loyal
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Chapter image by Aphrodite @ TDA
There were no words for this horror.
Sirius and Nora pored over the unfolded newspaper, stricken speechless by its massive title and unable to think clearly, reading it over and over and still not believing what was right before them. A buzz filled the bright kitchen, the luster unnatural when the world around them had suddenly plunged into frightening obscurity.
A mass breakout from Azkaban prison.
Ten pictures followed an enormous bold headline, the faces of Death Eaters who had haunted Nora’s nightmares since she was seven years old. Faces she had fantasized seeing someday in real life, for the opportunity of killing them…
She recognized Mulciber, Travers, Greyback, Rookwood, Jugson, and Avery; but Nora only had eyes for the Lestranges – Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan – and Antonin Dolohov. She read the caption underneath Dolohov’s sneering photograph – convicted of the brutal murders of Gideon and Fabian Prewett. She felt a knot rising in her chest, struggling to breathe at the sight of those impudent features gazing through the paper, right into Nora’s eyes. Even in photograph form, Nora felt repulsed by his insolence, his nerve to look at her – as though he were worthy enough to stand on level footing and call themselves equals. How dare he let his eyes meet hers!
“Greyback,” Sirius said, his voice hoarse.
“Dolohov,” Nora whispered fiercely. She clutched the inky paper in her fists, watching the black-and-white inmates of Azkaban leering at her, rolling their eyes, or staring off into space as though whoever had taken the picture was not worthy of their time and attention. This meant that all five Death Eaters who had killed Nora’s father were free, hovering somewhere close. “Mad-Eye was right. He knew this was going to happen.” Her mind flitted back to Remus’s proposition of baiting, and she knew that Sirius was thinking along the same lines. Mad-Eye’s guesses had come to fruition, and it looked likely that his precautionary plan would finally spring into reality as well.
“No,” Sirius moaned.
Kingsley Shacklebolt had enlightened them yesterday of a mass breakout from Azkaban, had given them even more details than this issue of the Daily Prophet (and his version was definitely more correct, as the Daily Prophet had pinned the blame on Sirius Black, claiming he was taking over Voldemort’s position). Sirius and Nora were hesitant to regard the words as truth, hoping that somehow there had been a mistake, that Kingsley was wrong and the dementors had not yet betrayed them…
In lesser news (according to the Prophet, anyway), Broderick Bode had been strangled by a bit of Devil’s Snare. He’d been in St. Mungo’s and the particulars were iffy, but no one could understand why the hospital staff hadn’t recognized the deadly plant. Bode was an Unspeakable in the Department of Mysteries.
“Guess I ought to start making sure you’re not inviting Death Eaters over,” Nora replied bitterly. “As you’re the icon for them now, you know.”
Sirius made a sound of disgust. “I’d love to get my hands on one of them, any of them…starting with Greyback, I think.”
“I want the Lestranges and Dolohov,” Nora told him savagely. “I want to go and find them.”
Sirius grabbed her wrist. “Don’t speak like that.”
“They murdered my father and my uncle!” she cried, tears slipping down her cheeks. “Look at what they did to my mother! I can’t just stay here when they’re out there, ruining more families, making orphans out of children while they watch their fathers die. How could you expect me to just sit on my hands and do nothing? That’s not the way I operate, you know that.”
“It’s too dangerous.”
“I spent five years living in trees, hunting Alecto Carrow, tracking other Death Eaters,” Nora seethed. “Danger is not new to me.” She wrestled from his grip, ready to leave that very second. To go where, she had no idea – would the Lestranges be foolish enough to return to their old home?
“Please, Lenora,” Sirius beseeched, resting both hands on her shoulders and shaking her slightly, his grey eyes penetrating. “You will get your vengeance, I promise you. But you are no longer alone – you have people now who want to help you. Together, we are more effective. Together, you stand less chance of being killed.”
Nora exhaled sharply. Sirius’s eyes, and the use of her full first name, probably, jolted her back to her senses. He was right. To get revenge, you had to be patient. You had to have back-up plans and craftiness and assistance. Gideon and Fabian had faced five Death Eaters and lost. Nora did not fancy her chances would be much better without the support of the Order, fighting right there along with her.
“So what do we do?” she asked desperately.
Sirius shook his head. “We wait for the perfect opportunity to present itself,” he said, “which probably won’t happen until after we find out where they’re all hiding.”
“Remus said that Fenrir wouldn’t have joined them,” Nora pointed out. Sirius went rigid, and did not respond. “They all think Greyback is going to come looking for me. Don’t you think that Mad-Eye’s plan is the best way to go? It’s so easy, it’s like dangling sweets in front of children; we could really get him, Sirius. We could get all of the information that’s in his head.” She examined Fenrir’s hideous image greedily, her eyes on the prize now. He was growling in what was clearly supposed to be a menacing manner, clawing at the frame of his picture with hairy fingers. Greyback was the key.
“We will get him,” Sirius replied, sounding waspish. “But not in a way that will put your life in peril. I don’t want that werewolf anywhere near you.”
There was to be an Order meeting that night, just to discuss what had happened. Arthur was out of the hospital and he and Molly were back at the Burrow; the students were at school once more and Grimmauld Place was restored to its usual amount of occupants – just Sirius, Nora, Kreacher, and Buckbeak. Nora was now looking so much forward to the meeting that she paced in the kitchen for hours, devising ideas to bring to light and dwelling constantly on the prospect of finding the Death Eaters’ lair. Nora was hoping that Sirius would be so vastly outnumbered by other Order members who had faith in Mad-Eye’s plan that he’d be forced to see reason. She hadn’t counted on anyone wanting to err on the side of her own safety.
Molly was Sirius’s strongest ally on this point. They were both resolutely against anything to do with Nora being within a thousand kilometers of Greyback, and Arthur, Bill, and Charlie backed her stance of opposition. Nora met surprising resistance in Severus Snape as well, who said that werewolves as far gone as Greyback, meaning that they’d ingested so much human blood that they were half-transformed at all times, could react unpredictably to spells, and there was a solid chance that he could get at Nora before any of their spells did any damage. After one bite, it would be too late.
“What about ‘Incarcerous’?” Nora demanded. “You just put up an Anti-Disapparition Jinx in the vicinity, conjure some ropes, and bind him? Even if he somehow doesn’t absorb spells like normal wizards, the ropes will still be effective.”
“He’s strong,” Sirius replied. “Just forget it, Nora.”
Nora scowled at him. “Don’t give me advice you wouldn’t ever take yourself.” Sirius looked away from her, feigning deafness.
“What about the rest of you?” Nora barked, searching for an empathetic face. “Does anyone else agree that there is a bigger picture here, and a little risk would be worth it?”
Remus was drawn between his loyalty to Sirius and his desire to capture the werewolf who maimed him. He was silent in his chair, eyes bright and teeth gnashed firmly together. Everyone knew his opinion on the issue. Tonks dependably announced that Nora was old enough to decide for herself what was too risky for her, and no amount of glaring from Sirius could make her change beliefs, as she was now basking in Remus’s approval.
Alastor Moody wasn’t intimidated by Sirius’s temper. “This is what it means to be in the Order!” he shouted. “You’ve got to be willing to make sacrifices – there are more important issues at stake here.”
"Exactly!" Nora cried.
“More important than Nora getting ravaged by a werewolf?” Sirius spat, ignoring Nora's cheers. “You self-serving…you…” he could not find words angry enough to express how livid he felt. “Absolutely not.”
“Absolutely not,” Molly echoed.
“It’s not up to either of you,” Mad-Eye grunted. “It’s up to the person at the center of the equation. And I believe she’s firmly on board.”
“Of course I am,” Nora supplied.
Sirius went into a rage, blasting the western wall of the kitchen apart with his wand before storming from the room, leaving silence in his wake. Nora was sorry he was so mad about it, but saw no other choice. She was certainly not giving up a role in obtaining the Death Eaters’ headquarters. She had survived Malfoy at the Ministry, hadn’t she? She’d proven she was tougher than she looked. It was with a set attitude that she turned to Kingsley and said, “When do we begin?”
But Kingsley, who had been listening quietly to the exchange of views without giving his own, pierced her with a stare that she knew would precede something contrary. “Dumbledore says to wait.”
“Wait?” Remus sputtered. “Wait for what?”
Kingsley rubbed his chin, looking disconcertingly calm. “He believes that acting too soon will bring our intentions into the open prematurely. The Death Eaters would be tipped off, and likely to become even more removed from society. Being rash gives them heavier reason to hide.”
“So what are we supposed to do, then?” Moody inquired roughly.
Kingsley was tranquil. “We wait.”
Nora felt her frustration bubbling, and when Kingsley did not elaborate, she knew it was over. Dumbledore’s word was law, and nothing went ahead without his say-so. Molly breathed a sigh of relief and Snape visibly relaxed; but Remus, Moody, and Nora were more tense than ever. Tonks shrugged. “He knows what he’s talking about, Albus does,” she said.
Nora stomped out to the back garden, cursing Dumbledore in her head and feeling malevolently wronged. Twenty minutes later she was joined by Sirius, whose disposition was miraculously chipper again, which only irritated her further. “I suppose you’re satisfied,” she snapped.
“Very much so,” he admitted freely, a smile playing at his lips. “You live to see another day, Nora Prewett, and there’s no use moping about it.”
Tonks poked her head outside, looking troubled. “Snape wants a word with you, Nora.”
Sirius bit his cheek. “How do we know he’s not selling information on you to Malfoy?” he questioned wildly. “He says he’s reformed, but I don’t buy it. Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater.”
Tonks stared up at the sky, yawning. “Dumbledore trusts him. That’s enough for me.”
Nora was still in a sour mood and hadn’t forgotten Snape’s interference with the plan, but she followed Tonks inside, anyway. Sirius watched her go with a rueful frown on his lips, feeling trapped on the edges of Nora’s life and wishing he knew what Snape was up to.
Severus was standing at the front door; everyone else from the Order besides Tonks had already left. His face was drawn with worry and his eyes resolute, preparing to do battle with her will. “I've got something to say and I would like to say it without you becoming angry. Can you manage that?"
Nora grimaced and folded her arms over her chest. “This sounds like something that’s definitely going to make me angry, then.”
His pale fingers intertwined and he balled them in a fist under his chin, gazing down on her with the expression of someone who urgently wants to ingrain a message on a person unlikely to listen to it. “I don’t believe for a second that being told not to look for the Dark Lord's followers has made any impact on you,” he said astutely.
“Why doesn’t anyone realize that I’m a fully-grown witch with valid opinions? I can make my own decisions and look after myself,” Nora retorted.
“Do you honestly think that’s the issue here?” he marveled, his manner almost pitying. “Are you so oblivious of your own value? We do not deny your capabilities, Nora. This is not about anyone trying to boss you around because we think your skills are juvenile – in fact, I can say with upmost sincerity that I believe you to be a capable, intelligent witch and that in the face of danger, your chances would be quite satisfactory.”
“Then why am I being instructed to steer clear of the Death Eaters?” she demanded. "I want to be in the face of danger, can't you see?"
Severus paused. “Because the other side has smart witches as well, and two of them helped to kill your father. Telling you to wait is an intelligent move. If you are hasty, then you give your adversaries a tremendous advantage. Your father exercised caution, and did not underestimate the Death Eaters. But in the end…” he trailed off, the image of Gideon’s weathered tombstone hanging wordlessly between them. “It is wise to wait,” he added for emphasis. “These Death Eaters know what they are doing, too.”
“Perhaps I’m really thick, then, because I think they get too much credit. Ruthlessness isn’t quite the same thing as brainpower, in my book.”
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. “Just don’t do anything stupid.”
“I think that’s all in the eye of the beholder,” Nora remarked. “What may be stupid to you could be perfectly rational to me.”
His eyes snapped open again. “Promise me you won’t go looking for any of them on your own. Wait for Dumbledore to devise a plan.” When Nora only stared emotionlessly at him, not willing to vow to any such commitment, he sighed in exasperation. “I beg you, Nora. Do not make me play the Sirius Black card.”
“Sirius Black card?”
Severus appeared as though he would rather swim laps through lava than disclose what he was thinking, but due to her defiant temperament he felt he had no other options. “If nothing else persuades you, this may: the man you’re living with has already had to suffer the loss of his family’s love, his best friend, and his freedom for many years. He would go absolutely mad if he was left here by himself, and your eagerness to jump in front of a freight train for the opportunity of spiting a Death Eater is going to give him an aneurysm.”
Nora was lost for words.
“Do you swear to obey Dumbledore’s orders?”
She swallowed, feeling a bit ashamed of herself. “Yes.”
“Will an Unbreakable Vow be necessary?”
Nora shook her head curtly, and he flung open the door, disapparating on the doorstep. Barely two seconds later did Sirius approach, his forehead creased with concern; and Nora was left thinking about Severus, and the fact that he had suffered even more than Sirius. He was utterly alone and dancing on a thin line of peril between his true face and the mask he wore for the Dark side. When Severus stepped into the shadow of Voldemort, there was nothing between him and his own death except for exceptional bravery and cleverness, and even when he drifted over to his real life, he was still alone, reclusive. He’d never known the lasting love and loyalty of true friends. Severus was thoroughly by himself, more emotionally solitary than Sirius had ever been – and yet he did not play his own card.
Tonks guessed that Nora might still be miffed about sitting around while the Death Eaters grew in numbers and began plotting, and decided to try and distract her. She rambled forever about renovations her parents were making on their house, but Nora was single-minded. That is, until Tonks finally gave up and said, “There’s nothing I can do to make Remus notice me.” After this statement, she had garnered Nora’s interest, for she sensed Tonks’s desolation and couldn’t help but want to make her feel better.
“Of course he notices you,” Nora soothed. “He tries not to talk to you too much, I think because he doesn’t trust himself not to give anything away. But when he is talking to you – Tonks, it’s like nothing else exists. Normally when people have conversations, they look around the room a bit, but he stares right into your eyes the whole time and scarcely blinks. It’s like he’s soaking you up for as long as he dares.”
“Just after the meeting ended, I asked him if he’d like to go out for a drink sometime,” Tonks reported dolefully. “And he rejected the offer; couldn’t get away from me fast enough.”
Nora patted her friend’s shoulder; Tonks was a lot more depressed than she was letting on. “It will happen, Dora. We’ll think of a way.”
“Think of a way to do what?” Sirius inquired suspiciously, emerging from around the corner into the sitting room where Nora and Tonks were relaxing on the sofa. He cast his wary eyes on Nora, the dread overtaking him again. “What are you two whispering about?”
“Not what you think, Sirius,” Tonks begrudgingly replied. “We’re talking about my love life woes.”
“Oh.” A smirk crossed his face, and he strode over to an armchair and plunked down into it, folding his arms behind his head. “By all means, continue as though I’m not here.”
“You see?” Tonks exclaimed shrilly, pointing an accusing finger at her cousin. “He just sneaks around getting all the dirt on everyone, and won’t use any of it to help me.” She leaned back, looking scornful. “I don’t know what kind of perverse satisfaction you get out of spying, but for the record I’d just like to state that you’re a jerk.”
“I’m sure he’s not being a vexatious little parasite on purpose,” Nora said smoothly, raising her eyebrows at him.
“Of course I am!” Sirius cheered, shaking a few strands of dark hair out of his eyes. “And as long as we’re calling names, my dears, let it be known that one of you is pig-headed and the other smells like an ogre.”
“I’d better be the pig-headed one,” Tonks warned.
Sirius grinned. “Sorry, Nymphadora, but you have a stench that could subdue an army of acromantulas.”
Nora bristled, feigning offense. “Pig-headed? You’re more obstinate than I am.” But her voice was lost in the feverishly defensive ranting now taking place.
“I don’t stink!” Tonks was insisting. “Why are you always implying that I stink? I’m telling you for the last time; I shower every day, sometimes twice a day.”
“Do you scrub yourself with frog spawn?”
“Oh, come off it. You’ve got hair like a banshee.”
“That’s more of a compliment than anything else, seeing as how you’ve got pink hair.”
“You have all the social tact of a manticore,” Tonks spat.
“And you’ve got the hygiene of a troll.”
Nora raised an eyebrow at them, Tonks distinctly ruffled, Sirius cool and amused. There wasn’t much you could say to Sirius Black to get his goat – unless you were Severus Snape. All’s Snape needed to do to make Sirius fly off the handle was to claim that rain was wet.
“You’d better stop talking or I’m going to hex your tongue to the roof of your mouth,” Tonks threatened. “And if you’re any decent kind of cousin, you’ll talk me up whenever you and Remus are chatting alone.”
Sirius merely gazed at her, his expression giving nothing away. “How do you know I don’t do that already?”
“Because you get your kicks from antagonizing me, that’s how.”
Nora observed as they argued back and forth, smiling good-naturedly and fully aware of the fact that both were playing the game of diversion, every word of it for Nora’s own benefit. They wanted to keep her concentration away from the big, bold headlines of the Daily Prophet, lying just a few feet away on the end table. But no matter how often she found herself enjoying their humorous tirade, the pale, twisting face of Antonin Dolohov was always on the margins of her thoughts. Try as she might, Nora knew she could not rest until that jeering image was captioned with the words ‘FOUND DEAD’.
When it was at last an acceptable hour to go to bed, Nora climbed the stairs two steps at a time, racing to her room. Hardly processing her surroundings, Nora scrambled into some comfy old pajamas and slid into bed, shivering a little. She didn’t feel like igniting the fireplace tonight – because warmth made her sleepy, and she wanted to be wide awake for a little while longer. For the first time since she’d read the newspaper, Nora could reflect in peace.
Dolohov needed to die. The Lestranges needed to die. Alecto Carrow needed to die. And if Nora could somehow take out Malfoy, that’d be great, too. Priority number one was to somehow find out where they were hiding. She envisioned sneaking up on them in the dead of night, wand in hand…it was all so very unhealthy, such a gruesome obsession. But they were out of prison! This was her chance to get rid of them once and for all, strike the vengeance they deserved… Nora was regarding the mass breakout from Azkaban as a grim blessing, as she’d felt no justice when they were rotting within those walls. They were alive and her father was dead. She needed to remedy that.
It was after two in the morning when she noticed the bedroom door sliding open, a shaft of dim light diffusing over her carpet. Sirius slipped inside, looking down on her. It was so dark that he could not distinguish whether her eyes were open or not, but she knew he was relieved just to see her there at all.
“Checking up on me?” she mused, and he sprang backwards in surprise. She laughed, sitting up against the headboard. “Don’t worry, Sirius. I’m not doing vigilante business tonight.”
He lit her fireplace with his wand, as the temperature was bordering on freezing, and Nora’s face became illuminated by the low orange flames. He studied her with a skeptical eye, appraising how much honesty was behind those unblinking eyes. “I don’t trust you,” he finally said.
She gazed at him evenly. “And you probably shouldn’t. But for tonight, at least, you’ve got my word. I promise not to go picking fights with Death Eaters any time soon.” Nora pondered over what Severus had mentioned about him, that Sirius had lost so much he cherished and that losing Nora might be the last straw for his sanity. She reached out and folded one of his hands in hers. “I’m not going to be reckless, Sirius Black, if you promise not to be reckless as well. And when I give you my word, you never have to question it.”
“I’m not doing anything that goes against Dumbledore’s wishes,” Sirius replied quietly, the relief washing over him.
“And I’m not doing anything that goes against yours,” she said.
They looked at each other for an immeasurable period of time, the heat from her fireplace stroking their skin. Sirius did not have to suppress any urges to touch her face, as he appreciated just the sensational warmth of her hands, and wasn’t going to waste any time yearning for the unachievable. Not now, not when he was right here gazing into Nora’s beautiful face, her soft lips, her slender neck…every curve of her body enhanced by the way shadows wrapped around her…
Sirius lay awake for two hours after Nora had eventually fallen asleep, staring up at the ceiling in his bedroom and still feeling the tingle of blood rushing to the surface of his skin whenever he envisioned her in his mind’s eye. What a powerful effect she had on him! He was immobilized by her touch; his heart thundered in his chest upon the sight of her smiling at him. Sirius was unable to breathe when she laughed…it was preposterous, really... He couldn't help but latch on to her.
For the longest time, he had been so very, very alone. For years and years, there was nothing but the cold darkness of a dementor-ridden Azkaban and the misery and the depression that accompanied being a prisoner without love, and subsequently, a fugitive without friends. And although he had Remus now, Remus didn't really need him. But here was someone who did need Sirius: Nora. And because she satisfied his craving for companionship after he'd nearly gone insane from that wretched, burning loneliness, she was brightened to an overwhelming perfection in his eyes - even more amazing than he would have thought her otherwise, if he'd still had James and Lily and youth to cling to. To him, she represented all that was lovely and vibrant and alive. He desperately needed to keep her that way.
"This is ridiculous," he groaned. He hated having to need someone; yet, he loved having someone to need. And Nora seemed to be the perfect kind of someone. She was exactly the type of person he dreamed about within those prison walls, the person he never thought he would encounter in reality. But she was here. Right across the hall. And he was about as close to a relationship with her as Voldemort was to having a one-night-stand with a Muggle.
He groaned again. "Sirius, you are a coward."
His attraction to Nora was going to shear ten years off his lifespan if he didn’t get his senses under control.
Author’s Note: In canon, Greyback’s more of an infection-spreader than a people-eater. But I think that for the purposes of this story, he’s a people-eater. :)
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