“I’m sorry,” he murmured over and over. “I’m so sorry.”
Nora felt her eyes burning, but thankfully she was holding herself well enough together to stave off tears. She’d done enough crying to last a lifetime. “I know how much you wanted to find him,” Sirius replied. “I wish this could have had a different outcome.”
Nora folded up her brother’s obituary and slid it down the table away from her. “Why did Alecto leave him outside a corner store, alive?” she wondered for the thousandth time. “It makes no sense.”
“I don’t know,” Sirius told her. “We may never know; we may never get an answer.” He paused. “We could go see the Neilhams, if you like. They might have pictures they could give you.”
Nora shook her head. “I’m not sure that would help.” She bent forward and pressed her forehead to the table. Its surface was cool and smooth, which helped to alleviate her headache. “So many people dying too early,” she said. “My father, my uncle, my brother…James, Lily…Cargan, Emmeline…” She felt Sirius’s chair scooting nearer. “I should have taken Archer with me. Mum told me she couldn’t ask me to, because he might cry if I were to run with him, but I should have tried. Who knows…we might have been able to find about his heart condition before it was too late. He could have lived.”
Sirius was quiet for a long while. This wasn’t exactly the homecoming he had anticipated. He’d spent the past two weeks agonizing over the obvious despair in Nora’s eyes, and had attributed it to her being sorry she was back at Grimmauld Place. Finally, he’d been able to sit her down and convince her to tell him what was on her mind. He had not foreseen such heartbreak, although he certainly had foreseen an unhappy ending with the exploration for Archer Prewett. “We can’t stop death when it’s our time,” he responded gently. “We all have a number. When our number is up, it’s time to go and we can’t avoid it. There’s no use trying to prevent it, or to plague ourselves with ‘what-ifs’.”
His hand found hers and he squeezed it. This roused her senses, for she snapped her head up and examined his hand with perplexed eyes. “How did you get this back?” she whispered, studying the phoenix ring.
Sirius looked, if possible, even more confused than Nora. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve had that ring for the past three weeks.”
He knit his eyebrows. “No, you haven’t.”
She dashed upstairs and opened the drawer to her nightstand. Immediately upon returning home, the nightstand was where she placed the ring. She’d been meaning to give it back to Sirius, but had put it off at first because she wanted to admire it and then had forgotten about it until that moment. The drawer, however, yielded no ring. Nora whipped it out and plunked it down on her bed, sifting through it again. She checked under the bed, under the pillows and between the sheets – but there was nothing. She trampled down the stairs, anxiety heightening. “I found that ring in Ginny’s bedroom, Sirius. I’ve had it upstairs and was going to give it back…and it’s gone. Did you look through my drawer?”
He shook his head, alarmed now. “Are you alright, Nora? I haven’t taken this ring off since you wore it at Muriel’s.”
“This is impossible,” she whispered. “I’ve had it…I don’t know where it’s gone.” Her eyes darted all around the kitchen. “Kreacher!” she hollered. “He must have nicked it! He took the ring from me!”
Sirius looked like he had no idea what to do. He was thinking that Nora was severely unwell.
“Kreacher!” she screamed. The elf did not appear. Nora threw open the door of the airing cupboard off to the left and poked her head inside. She lifted Kreacher’s nest of moth-eaten blankets and Black family trinkets, shaking them out. No ring. “He’s got it on him, then,” she raved. “He’s got it.”
Sirius touched Nora’s shoulder, but she barely felt him. “No,” he said worriedly. “I’ve got it. You never had it.” He took a breath. Should he get someone to take her to St. Mungo’s? Was it Archer’s death or Cargan’s that threw her? Would Nora end up like Petula – unable to cope and losing her mind? She’d been quiet and not at all like herself since she’d come home, like a ghost. She’d just started perking up again, and come to find out she was going loopy.
“Maybe you found a different ring,” he tried.
Nora ran her fingers through her hair in agitation. “No. It was yours. But…come to think of it…I haven’t really looked at it since I put it there to begin with. Kreacher could have taken it at any time. I don’t understand.”
“Nora…” Sirius was lost for words.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she snapped, turning and facing him full-on. “Don’t you dare look at me like that, Sirius Black. I had that damned ring, impossible or not. I got it from that stupid phantom.”
“Phantom?” he repeated, eyebrows shooting up.
She shook her head, tapping one hand on the counter and glancing edgily all around. “Don’t ask, you’ll just think I’m even crazier than you do right now.”
“I don’t think you’re crazy.”
“Don’t lie, Sirius. It’s on your face; it’s in your voice. You think I’m going mental because of Archer.” She moved closer to him, intimidating him with those sharp eyes. “I’m not mental. There was a ring.” She pointed to his hand. “That ring.”
And with those words, Sirius located the reason and sagacity within Nora again. He knew, somehow, that she was telling the truth. “What does this mean, then?” he asked.
She sighed. “I haven’t the foggiest idea.”
Sirius joined Nora upstairs and helped her search for the duplicate of his phoenix ring, but neither of them found anything. It was evening, and there wasn’t much light to see by. Nora sat on the floor, cross-legged with a pile of laundry in front of her. “I’m just checking these robes to make sure I didn’t somehow put it in my pocket,” she informed him.
Sirius leaned against the window. “This has to mean something,” he said in exasperation. “For you to find it, while I already have it, and then for the thing to just disappear altogether…”
“I know,” she responded. “This is immensely frustrating. I feel like the answer is right here in front of me and I’m not seeing it.”
“Wait.” He cocked his head slightly. “Did you hear that?”
They both listened, Nora not quite knowing what they were supposed to be listening for. Suddenly, Sirius bolted out the door and down the stairs. Nora stood to her feet, robes tumbling to the floor in a heap, and rushed after him. When she got to the kitchen, where his loud footsteps indicated he had gone, she found him face-to-face with Kreacher.
“What’s going on in here?” Sirius demanded.
Kreacher stared up at him with large, insolent eyes. “Kreacher does not know what you are talking about, Master. Kreacher is only cleaning.”
“I heard voices.”
“Mistress always said you were batty. It was only a matter of time.”
Sirius resisted an urge to hit the elf. “Get out of my sight,” he spat. When Kreacher was gone, he grumbled, “Cleaning. He hasn’t cleaned in a decade, the worthless elf.”
“He’s old,” Nora reminded him.
“Should have asked him if he took the ring,” he remarked. Nora said nothing; she could see now that Kreacher had not taken the ring back. Somehow, she just knew.
The duplicate ring could not exist in the same space as the real ring. It was a phantom ring, just like the phantom Nora. The second Nora shut the drawer after placing the ring inside, it would have ceased to exist.
Nora started washing the dishes, by hand as usual, and Sirius settled himself back in his regular seat at the table, poring over the Daily Prophet. Nora couldn’t help but notice Sirius’s distraction ever since she came back to Number Twelve, and often wondered why he was so withdrawn. Sirius, of course, thought the same about her. He did not notice his own behavior because he was so busy watching her, waiting for her to declare her love for Severus Snape and go running into the greasy Potions professor’s arms. In truth, a small fissure had developed in his heart upon seeing Snape kiss Nora. It slowly cracked wider apart as the days slipped by, growing bigger and bigger. His fear fed on itself until he’d lost his grasp on any hope for them at all.
Did she return Snape’s advances? Did she like him that way? Sirius was convinced that Nora only stayed at Grimmauld Place because she felt sorry for him, and that the moment Hogwarts dismissed for summer break, Nora would split and join Snape. If Sirius was lucky, Nora would come back and live at Headquarters again once school resumed on September the first. All of this weighed heavily on Sirius’s mind, and he found himself unrelentingly consumed with depression.
“Are we interrupting anything?” a chirpy voice called out, and Nora turned to see Tonks in the kitchen with Moody, Kingsley, and Remus streaming in behind her.
“Hi, there,” Nora greeted them. “What’s going on?” She thought they might bring more news of McGonagall and Hagrid – the former had been Stunned while trying to protect Hagrid, and Hagrid had taken off into the mountains when Umbridge tried to sack him.
“I know it’s a bit late,” Tonks hedged, “But we just got wind of a bit of information and were hoping you could put us at ease, Sirius.”
His interest was piqued, possibly due to Tonks’s unusual friendliness toward himself. Sirius said, “What information would that be?”
“A bunch of Death Eaters were spotted in Surrey a few hours ago,” Kingsley supplied. “Rowle, Dolohov, Crabbe, and Gibbon. We didn’t know if perhaps Dumbledore was hiding somewhere there, since that’s where Harry Potter’s aunt and uncle live; we thought that maybe he would want to be nearby to watch over Harry during his summer holiday, which isn’t too far off…”
“No,” Sirius replied tersely. “Dumbledore is not in Surrey.”
Tonks let out a sigh of relief and Remus visibly relaxed.
“Thank goodness,” Remus said, massaging his eyes with his hands as though he hadn’t gotten much sleep lately. “Mundungus was the one who saw them, but of course he didn’t confront them or anything.”
“Of course,” Mad-Eye muttered.
“Then what do you think that lot was doing in Surrey if –” Kingsley began before he was interrupted by a tall, black-clad man in the doorway.
Severus Snape looked around the room, evidently satisfied by something. “Sev!” Nora exclaimed, and Sirius winced. “What are you doing away from school?”
“It seems that Potter is under the impression that his godfather has gone out for a nice walk,” he replied silkily. “I am merely checking to reaffirm Potter’s misconceptions. I am not surprised his imagination has run away with him again.”
“It’s not his imagination running away, you berk,” Tonks piped up. Nora, too, was not pleased with what Severus was implying. “He’s been dreaming about You-Know-Who for ages, or so you’ve told us. I think anyone would be prone to psychological fallouts after going through that every night.”
“He would not be seeing these images if he had learned Occlumency,” Snape countered.
Sirius stood up so hastily that his chair fell backwards against the wall. “Perhaps Harry would have picked it up if he’d had a better teacher,” he replied in a waspish tone, “and one who did not decide to stop giving lessons just because a few embarrassing boyhood memories were exposed.”
“Severus,” Nora interrupted, the soap bubbles dripping absently from the tips of her fingers onto the linoleum floor. “Why would Harry believe Sirius had any reason to be anywhere other than here? What did he tell you?”
Severus turned away, not looking at her. “I must be going. The headmistress will be most aggrieved if she comes back and I am not there.”
“Comes back? Where is she?” Nora wanted to know.
“In the Forbidden Forest, with Potter and Granger,” he replied dismissively. “I must go.” He marched back through the way he came, and when the door closed, the kitchen burst into frenzied voices.
“What are they in the blooming Forbidden Forest for?” Tonks kept saying.
“Umbridge is going to kill them!” Sirius cried. “That demented old hag hates Harry; she’s got it out for him. And bloody Snivellus just let them get carted off…didn’t even bother…”
“You think this has anything to do with the Death Eaters in Surrey?” Remus was asking Moody, who gulped down half a flask of firewhisky and wiped his mouth.
“Course it does,” he barked gruffly. “It’s related – it always is. Now we’ve just got to figure out what Potter thinks is going on with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. If he wants Potter to think Sirius isn’t here, then there’s got to be a complicated reason behind it.”
“Maybe he wants Harry to come here,” Nora suggested. “Harry knows how to get into Number Twelve, and maybe Voldemort thinks he can follow him inside…maybe under an invisibility cloak or something.”
“To kill us?” Tonks’s voice was shrill. “You think You-Know-Who is trying to get into Grimmauld Place to find us?”
“Pettigrew knows that Sirius owns the house we use as headquarters,” Remus said slowly. “He told us in the cellar when we had his wand drawn on him. Maybe Voldemort thinks that if he comes here, he’ll find all of the members of the Order and he’ll be able to kill us in one easy strike. With Dumbledore gone from Hogwarts, we’re really the only threat left.”
“You should write to Harry,” Kingsley pressed, looking at Sirius. “And tell him that you’re home, and safe, so that he doesn’t do anything rash.”
“Severus will tell Harry just that, I’m sure,” Nora replied. The rest looked dubious. “Well, he’s a member of the Order, too!” she persisted. “He must know how important Sirius is to Harry, and won’t want to stir up more trouble than it’s worth.”
“Maybe Umbridge is meeting with those Death Eaters Dung saw in Surrey,” Kingsley told the room half an hour later, while they were still bickering and guessing amongst themselves. “She looks the part of a Death Eater, that’s for sure. For all we know, Umbridge could be leading Harry into the forest to hand over to You-Know-Who.”
“She could be a Death Eater,” Moody agreed. “Doesn’t take much, these days. Evil gravitates to evil…”
Tonks gasped. “Someone needs to get to Hogwarts and save Harry!”
“Severus won’t let Umbridge hurt him!” Nora defended. Sirius glared at her, annoyed now.
“Get your head out of the clouds, Nora,” he chided coldly. “Snape’s not some kind of protective friend like you make him out to be. He loathes Harry. I wouldn’t be surprised if he helps Umbridge deliver Harry to Snake-Face himself. After all, he just sat back and watched Harry and Harry’s Muggle-born best mate saunter off into the woods with that insane dictator. Can’t have much of a conscience, can he?”
“Maybe Snape’s making it up altogether,” Kingsley mused. “Just to rile you up, Sirius.”
“I can’t see him taking the trouble to come here if conditions didn’t call for it,” Remus said to break the silence that Kingsley’s words had invoked. “He dislikes Sirius even more than Harry, and is uncomfortable here.”
“He comes at every chance, anyway.” Sirius tossed the newspaper over his shoulder and slapped his hands down on the table. “So. What do we do?”
“You do nothing,” a startlingly familiar, oily voice sneered. Severus, impossibly, was standing behind Alastor Moody. No one had noticed his abrupt reappearance, and Tonks toppled out of her chair onto the floor. “Everyone else, I should advise, would do well to get to the Ministry of Magic.”
“What for?” Nora inquired, dread seeping out from the pit of her stomach.
Severus licked his lips and glowered disdainfully around the dim kitchen, his complexion sallower than ever under the yellowish light. “Dolores Umbridge did not return from the Forbidden Forest, and six students are missing from the school. Several of my Slytherins, I might add, were covered with hexes cast by one of the missing children in question.”
“Is Harry one of these missing children?” Sirius’s voice was sharp. Nora took a breath – they all knew the answer already, could tell by the steely glint in Snape’s black eyes.
“As well as Luna Lovegood, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, and Ron and Ginny Weasley.”
“No!” Nora cried. “Ginny and Ron! Neville!” Her hands were shaking. “Harry!”
“Umbridge kidnapped them?” Tonks asked incredulously. “Where would she take them?”
Severus looked like he wanted to roll his eyes. “Umbridge is still in the forest, you imbeciles. I could hear her screaming. The children stole thestrals for their travel – very valuable thestrals that are the sole property of Hogwarts, I might add – and one can easily guess where they’ve gone.” There was a nasty pause, and he added, “Potter believes that the Dark Lord is holding Black hostage in the Department of Mysteries.”
“It’s a set-up!” Remus exclaimed hoarsely. “It must be a set-up. Voldemort’s waiting there for Harry; for Harry to find the prophecy himself so they can take it from him. He’s using their connection to make him see things that aren’t real.”
Nora felt numb. She stole a sideways peek at Sirius, whose face was white and terrified. “We’ve got to get there now!” Sirius yelled. They all got to their feet and made for the door. Nora was already slipping past them, darting up the stairs.
“You stay here,” Severus commanded Sirius. “I’ve sent a Patronus to Dumbledore, and told him expressly that he should come to headquarters first, to get up to speed on what is happening.”
“You want me to play messenger while my godson’s fighting against Voldemort?” Sirius bellowed. “Are you out of your mind?” He turned around, sweeping the room with his gaze. “Where’s Nora?”
“Up there.” Tonks pointed.
Nora came bounding back down the stairs, dressed in her red feather hat, a green travelling cloak, and boots. The baggy sleeves of her cloak were pushed up to her elbows, and her eyes were bright and fierce. “What’re we all waiting for, then?” she addressed the staring horde. “Let’s go!”
Mad-Eye and Kingsley pushed past her to go upstairs, wands out and ready to disapparate. Tonks and Lupin charged after them. “You’re not going,” Sirius told Nora evenly, bracing himself for her wrath.
True to form, Nora exploded. “What the bloody hell do you mean, I’m not going?” she said. “Of course I’m going – two of my cousins are headed to the Department of Mysteries, if you haven’t heard.”
Kreacher’s long snout came lurking around the corner from his cupboard, a malicious grin on his face. “The blood-traitor brats, too? Kreacher hopes they get what they deserve; Kreacher hopes they all meet a gruesome end. Kreacher hopes –”
“Silencio!” Nora shouted, knocking the elf over with the force of her spell. She whirled around to shout at Sirius again. “I’m coming with you and that’s final.”
“Please.” Sirius stepped toward her, oblivious of Snape watching them, and took Nora’s face in his hands. “Please,” he whispered. “Stay here where it’s safe. Harry might get hurt tonight…I don’t want anything bad happening to you. The risk is too much for me to bear. I won’t be able to concentrate if I think you’re going to be in danger.”
“I’m just supposed to sit here while everyone else goes off and rescues these kids from Voldemort’s trap?” Her voice was raspy. “I can’t stay here while that’s happening.”
“Go to Andromeda’s, then,” he bargained. “I’ll send word to Dumbledore and the others that we’re to report to Andromeda’s. You’ll be saner with other people to talk to and pass the time with. You’ll be safe.”
“But what about you?” she shrieked. “You won’t be safe. Neither of you will be safe.” She gestured to Severus with one arm.
“I’ll be fine,” Severus answered smugly, “because I will be at Hogwarts.”
Sirius was livid. “Coward!”
Snape’s mouth turned down into a thin scowl. “Do the words ‘double-agent’ mean anything to you? How do you think it’s going to appear when I arrive on the scene with the Order of the Phoenix?”
“We intend to defeat the Death Eaters, so appearances don’t matter,” Sirius shot back. “You’re staying behind because you don’t plan on our side winning. You’re counting on Death Eater witnesses.”
“Of course I’m planning on at least a few Death Eaters getting away,” Severus replied. “Evasion is an art, Black; a skill the Dark Lord prizes in his followers. He does not like to constantly have to replace them, you see.”
“Stop arguing!” Nora interrupted them. “There are more important things going on here than your hatred for one another. Severus, if you’re not going to fight then you should get out of here and find out what’s going on with Umbridge. And Sirius, I have to go. I have to help.”
Severus departed in a flourish of billowing black robes, and Sirius turned desperately to Nora. She opened up her mouth to say something, and Sirius pressed a finger to her lips. “You are far too precious to risk,” he told her calmly. Then he twisted the phoenix ring from his finger and folded it inside her hand. “This is my good-luck charm,” he said, gunmetal-grey eyes intense. “Go to Andromeda’s. Be safe. Stay away from danger. Promise me you will stay away from danger.”
The forcefulness of his expression somewhat hypnotized Nora, and she found herself saying, “I promise.”
Nora and Sirius climbed the stairs and stepped out onto the pavement outside Number Twelve. Nora glanced at Sirius, but he did not catch her eye. “You will try to be safe, too, won’t you?” she implored. “You will come back?”
“Stay at Andromeda’s,” was all he said, and then he disapparated.
Andromeda fiddled with the teapot, adjusting the lid this way and that. Unsatisfied, she dumped the whole thing into the sink and set to brewing coffee instead. Nora knew that Sirius’s cousin wasn’t fussed about something to drink – she needed to keep her hands busy so that they wouldn’t be flailing all over the place in a panic.
As Nora’s hands had been doing.
She paced from one end of the room to the other. How long had it been? It seemed like an eternity had passed since Sirius, Remus, Kingsley, Moody, and Tonks had departed for the Ministry of Magic. Nora was torn between worrying for Tonks and Sirius and worrying for Ginny and Ron, and wondered what Molly was doing at that moment. Surely, she would have noticed the positions of her two youngest children on that enchanted Weasley clock…surely, those two hands were now pointing at ‘mortal peril’.
“And you think the Death Eaters will be there?” Ted asked again.
Nora nodded, her stomach queasy. She wished Ted would stop asking so many questions – he was distracting her from dwelling on the danger so many people she loved was in right now. Andromeda seemed to sense Nora’s need for privacy, because she said, “Lenora, honey, would you go upstairs to my bedroom linen cupboard and bring me back a stack of sheets? I don’t know what sort of state anyone’s going to be in when they get back, and I want to be prepared.”
She could have just used ‘Accio’, but Nora was grateful Andromeda was providing an excuse for Nora to hide her face for a few moments. Nora needed a minute or so to completely lose her mind, in order for her to maintain some grip on composure.
Nora seized the request and trudged up Andromeda’s wide, blue carpeted stairs with rich mahogany railings. The hallway up there was strangely cooler than the rest of the house, and had an air of not being breathed in much. As Nora made her way steadily down the corridor, it seemed to grow darker, narrower, and stuffier – like an endless tunnel. Glancing back over her shoulder, the mouth of the stairs looked like it could have been an hour away. Goosebumps prickled along her skin. Was the upstairs floor bewitched?
Nora finally concluded her travel to the end of the corridor. She could see Andromeda and Ted’s large, king-sized bed with the ruffled pillows and fancy Oriental rugs lining the floors. She was just about to step inside when she caught sight of another stairway just off to her right – which she had not noticed before. In fact, Nora could have sworn that the end of the corridor had ended in a flat wall, and not a stairway. But there was no denying that a stairway did, in fact, exist there now.
There was something familiar about it.
She traced the wood with her fingertips, feeling the grooves and indentations in the texture. It was an old banister, dark and dull in color, which contrasted with the other gleaming, well-polished stairs in the great house. Nora placed a firm hand on it and began to climb the stairs. There was a landing after about twenty steps, but no doors going off of it. She ascended another twenty steps, where she came across a second landing – also without doors.
On the third landing, there was a door.
It was off to the left, across from a wide, blank expanse of wall. Nora reached for the silver doorknob, heart thumping, and turned it slowly. The door creaked open, but no light emanated from within. Nora stepped inside the darkness, vaguely aware of Andromeda’s and Ted’s voices drifting up from somewhere far away; and the door shut behind her of its own accord. Everything was black, but she already knew where to reach for the gas lamp. She could smell it, could taste the mustiness in the air. She was in the front entrance of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.
Her hand closed around the base of the gas lamp and probed for the switch. Flame flickered without prompting, glowing upwards on the walls and illuminating the darker shapes where elf heads used to be mounted. Nora shivered; Grimmauld Place was too cold, the atmosphere void of moisture. It felt more like Nora was standing on an icy mountaintop at a numbing altitude, elevated so high up that the air was thin and dry, than actually standing on the worn carpet of her home.
The flames inside the gas lamp blew sideways as though in a strong wind, throwing their golden light up the stairs and washing everything else in shadow. Nora gazed up the winding stairs, feeling the pull to tread them, knowing that something imperative must await her up there. For a moment, Nora completely forgot about the Department of Mysteries and the Hogwarts children; she knew nothing besides the captivating scene in front of her.
She must go up those stairs.
Nora slowly placed one foot on the bottom step, and then the other. Her feet gradually picked up the pace as though they were being operated by someone else, someone who did not want Nora to turn around and go back down the steps. Somehow, though, Nora knew she would not open up the front entrance of Grimmauld Place and find Andromeda’s house again. This was no dream or trick of the mind - she was actually in Number Twelve.
Nora reached the first landing, but did not even glance at the doors leading off of it. She continued up and up and up, past the second landing, onto the third landing, and stopped. Her bedroom door was off to the right, and Sirius’s was left. She stared apprehensively at his silver doorknob.
Just as she had done only a few moments before, Nora opened the door and stepped inside. This time, she did not end up anywhere unusual; she was in the bedroom of Sirius Black. She’d been inside this room only a handful of times, and never for very long. Usually it was just to poke her head inside and yell at him that Remus was there to see him, or that lunch was waiting on the table. However, there was almost never any need for this, because Sirius spent very little time alone in his bedroom. Aside from the past couple of weeks where he’d fancied a bit of solitude, he much preferred to be in Nora’s company at all times.
The temperature was frigid up in his room, and as Nora closed the door behind her, she knew without turning around that she was not alone. The rattling breath shot up Nora’s skin like a blast of snow, and she backed quickly away from the figure, bumping into Sirius’s bed.
Other-Nora had somehow materialized in the real world, and it was not shrouded in pulsating, swirling black fog anymore. The actual Nora could distinguish the features of her mirror-image, with the long flowing hair and honey eyes. Everything about her was less sharp, however – her eyes weren’t quite as bright, her skin and hair slightly washed out. It was as if only one thin layer existed between the two of them, a nearly transparent veneer rather than a thick cloud of black veil. Nora realized with a sudden surge of fright that this was because only a day or so separated these two Nora’s, and that’s why the image was clear, so real, so close to solid. She was staring into the face of tomorrow.
They looked at each other for a second – one haunting, one spellbound – and then the other-Nora turned on the spot as though to disapparate, melting into the floor.
Nora stared in delirious mystification, and then went over to examine the floorboards where other-Nora disappeared into. White vapory smoke steamed through its cracks, and Nora quickly slid her fingers into a craggy edge of a narrow board and pulled. She half-expected to see the phantom itself curled up down there, or to peer through the floor into Walburga’s bedroom, but all she found was a hollow space. Wafting away the white vapor, Nora detected a thick collection of parchment sitting at the bottom of the shallow hiding place, and reached in to retrieve them.
There had to have been at least a hundred sheets of parchment down there. Eyes widening, Nora lifted them all out onto Sirius’s floor. She was just thinking that the lighting was too dim to read by when a series of candles scattered throughout the bedroom blazed simultaneously to life. They radiated light, but not heat. The air here tasted frosty and metallic, and Nora shivered, wrapping her green cloak more tightly about her.
Were these papers written by Sirius’s ancestors? Did she have any business reading them? Nora knew she had to read them, of course, or else a phantom stairway would not have appeared in Andromeda’s house that inexplicably led to Grimmauld Place. She would not have ended up here, in Sirius’s bedroom, and other-Nora would not have found a way to show her that exact spot on the floor. It was a blaring sign that she could not ignore.
She picked up the one on top and read:
I don’t know how many more of these letters I can stand to write. They vent my feelings, yes, but not to the person they’re directed at. No one will ever see these letters, because I hide them away like the coward that I am.
I can’t continue much longer like this.
Do you love Severus Snape? I have asked myself this question over and over ever since our escape from Malfoy Manor and the kiss between you and him. I told myselfno, that you could not love him. And yet, I remember that you did seem to kiss him back. I am left with no other alternative than to believe you indifferent of me, and in love with Snape. He does not deserve you, but if you do not love me then I really cannot do anything to change that. I had wished, however, that in the months we’ve grown closer, the many months you’ve lived and laughed and talked with me, that you might grow to feel otherwise. In the end, I suppose one cannot force a person to love someone.
What will I do when you leave with him? Probably nothing…I will probably rot away in my parents’ house, alone. I will have absolutely no one and absolutely nothing to live for. The best I can hope for is that a few Death Eaters might break into Grimmauld Place and kill me. This way, at least I can die with dignity, and people will reflect on me like they do on your father, and say, “There is a man who died fighting.” They will never know that I welcomed it. And what would you think of me? I wonder if you would miss me. I think you would, as I believe you regard me as a very good friend. I wish it could have been more than that. But, as I mentioned, there is no use trying to change the unchangeable.
Would the Daily Prophet publish my murder? Would the Order come clean about me? It would be tauntingly ironic if the only way my reputation could be cleared was through death. Me – a mass murderer? I couldn’t even accomplish killing the main person I was convincted of killing. Peter Pettigrew lives and thrives, and I am dying inside as I write. My single source of happiness is in love with Severus Snape, not me. I suppose this is Snape’s reward for not winning Lily from James all those years ago…
I do not want to wait sixteen years to get another shot at it.
The letter appeared to be unfinished. It was not signed like all of the others, and Nora quickly rifted through them, catching glimpses.
Today you smiled at me before we separated to our bedrooms, and I thought about kissing you. I wanted to – badly – but I did not. And now I am in here, writing it down in a letter. I write all of the things I could never tell you. One day, maybe, I will.
And another one –
I don’t know too terribly much about you yet, aside from the fact that you’re positively gorgeous and you have this way of walking that makes me want to collapse to my knees. I plan on learning much more. I want to know where you grew up, what subjects you liked at Hogwarts; I want to know the places you’ve been and the people you love.
Nora could barely breathe at this point. Her trembling fingers plunged through letter after letter – all of them the same, all of them different. One was from May eleventh – a three-page letter he wrote on the same day that he’d sent her a note at Molly’s with only one line in it, about Harry not receiving his Occlumency lessons anymore. She recognized different bits of various letters as being written around special dates that stuck out in Nora’s mind – one at Christmas, one on her birthday – another from the night Nora had seen him on his bed with Hestia Jones:
How could you think I wanted Hestia? What does Hestia have that could possibly tempt me? Don’t you know how much I value you, how much I desire you? How much I would give for you to be mine?
Letters from the early days, dated from September and October, were signed like an affectionate friend. Recent ones, though – and all the way back through December, as Nora could tell – were signed with love. Love.
A few were even embellished with lines that made Nora blush; lines about herself that she never would have imagined Sirius could think about her. Here was proof, concrete proof that Sirius Black was in love with Nora Prewett.
She let out a squeal.
Nora then looked all around, embarrassed as though Sirius had seen her reaction, but the house was still empty. Nora eagerly flipped through the letters, feeling guilty for going through his private stash of confessions. When she found the most recent one again, the letter that could very well have been written that morning, and re-read it, Nora found some of her newfound euphoria fading. I do not want to wait another sixteen years to get a shot at it. He also wrote about death as though he welcomed it, as though it would save him from living with misery and a broken heart.
Nora dropped the parchment from her hands. Sirius Black did not intend to come back from the Department of Mysteries tonight.
“Oh, Merlin!” she shouted. “He’s going to let himself be killed!” How had she not seen it before? His eyes had been so full of pain, his behavior had been so distant and irregular. Sirius was going to be reckless on purpose. He wanted to go out with a ‘bang’.
Was this what other-Nora had so desperately wanted her to find? It had to have been. Nora was supposed to discover Sirius’s love for her so that she could tell him how she felt, so that she would know without a shadow of a doubt that she wouldn’t be rejected. And this love, from Nora to Sirius, would give him an incentive to come back unscathed from the Ministry of Magic. Right now, he felt as though nothing good was waiting for him. In his eyes, he would spend the rest of his life imprisoned in Number Twelve, lonely and unloved. He was going to use any opportunity of a battle as a way to be killed with honors. She remembered his cryptic words, his careless attitude when she’d asked him if he would try to be safe. And he’d given her his good-luck ring, because he didn’t need it anymore. Sirius did not wish for luck to be on his side tonight.
Nora reached into her pocket and wrapped her fingers around her wand. Drawing it out, she whispered, “Expecto Patronum.” A large, silvery animal bloomed from the tip of her wand, shimmering and cantering in circles in the muted candlelight. “I love you, Sirius.” she said to it. “Come back to me.”
The large dog turned its pale eyes toward her for a second, striking all the way through her heart like an icy sword, before it vanished in a puff of smoke.
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