“Hello, lovely,” Sirius murmured as he slipped his arms around her waist.
Althea smiled as she pulled his arms tighter around her, leaning her back against his chest. Her kitchen gardens were in full bloom and the early morning sun accentuated the sweet fragrance. They still slept in separate rooms—Althea had not invited Sirius to her bed. They were friends with a history as lovers, and the two would remain as such—both eager to consummate their renewed relationship, but reluctant with the presence of their houseguest. Still, it felt odd, and Althea wondered even if Remus would depart that it would remain so. He doesn’t care, she reminded herself.
“You’re awake early,” he remarked. He unhurriedly kissed the nape of her neck and nestled his chin on her shoulder, which caused her to smile.
“I wasn’t up late working,” she replied, watching as a small, white butterfly landed on the veranda railing.
“Working?” he repeated and kissed her bare shoulder. “Muggle Studies work?”
“No,” she answered and laughed quietly. “You find it very amusing that I’m a professor, don’t you?”
“I do,” he murmured as they gently swayed back and forth. “You giving homework and detentions, two things you absolutely hated.”
“I still hate them,” she replied, closing her eyes. “I believe I’m the only professor that didn’t give homework over the Summer Holiday.”
“It is Muggle Studies.”
A small tinge of embarrassment filled her stomach…it was just Muggle Studies. I’m just a joke—he can’t even take my job seriously, she thought, growing more uncomfortable. He must wonder why I took the job. It wasn’t what I planned to do.
“Mind yourself,” she began, opening her eyes, “after your name is cleared, Dumbledore might hire you.”
Sirius chuckled against her as he playfully tugged at the thin shoulder strap of her sundress. “To teach what?” he laughed and fiercely kissed her shoulder.
“I don’t know,” she spoke slowly, her eyes drifting upward and noticing a small cobweb in the corner between two support beams. “You could enliven History of Magic.”
Althea felt Sirius throw his head back as he laughed loudly. “With what? A reenactment of the Goblin Rebellion of 1612?” he joked, resting his face in her hair—his breath warming her neck. “I couldn’t make that class exciting…which is a huge statement.”
Althea furrowed her eyebrows as she thought about his future Hogwarts profession, and soon, a wicked grin encompassed her lips. “Potions?” she suggested as Sirius’s fingers swept the thick locks of hair away from her neck. “Dumbledore could always fire Snape and hire you—”
“No,” he murmured, unimpressed, nuzzling her neck, “although Dumbledore should fire that filth. I’d prefer something else…Defense Against the Dark Arts, perhaps?”
It was Althea’s turn to laugh. “You aren’t being serious—”
“What if I was?” he asked as Althea felt him straighten himself. “I reckon I’m the most qualified—”
“Owl your résumé to Dumbledore and see if he accepts,” she quipped, her hands stroking his arms as she continued to laugh. She sighed wistfully and smiled. “It’d be brilliant if you were there.”
“It’d be brilliant if you stayed here.”
“I know,” she sighed, looking out across her vegetable garden—the tomatoes were almost ripe. “Who’d want to teach Muggle Studies, though?”
“He’d find someone—”
“No, he wouldn’t,” she said, frowning slightly. “No one would want the job.”
“Why did you—”
“I’ll be home on weekends,” she interrupted, slipping her hand underneath his hand. “Christmas holiday and Easter holiday as well.”
“You’ll be exhausted,” he replied, grasping her hand, “and we’ll both be very lonely during the weekdays.”
“We’ll compensate on weekends,” she explained and smiled as Sirius groaned. “Will you return with me to Hogwarts, then?”
“Excellent,” he murmured and forcefully kissed the nape of her neck. “I’ll stay in your quarters.”
“Snape would suspect—”
“Let him,” he snorted, and she quickly pulled away and turned to face him.
“No!” she pleaded, laying her hands on his chest. “He’d notify the Ministry…and I’d die if I lost you,” she said, resting her face against the hollow of his shoulder.
Sirius lifted her chin with his thumb and forefinger and solemnly looked into her eyes. “I’d die before I’d let them take me.”
“I know,” she replied, her lips trembling into a frown. “I can’t lose you.”
Sirius’s mouth twitched into a small, appreciative smile. “I’ll live for a very long time,” he assured and kissed her cheek. “You’ll become sick of me.”
“Never,” she murmured, allowing her fingertips to glide up and down his chest. “We have twelve years to make up for.”
Before Althea could pull away, Sirius pulled her close—her head snapping back—and with a smirk, he kissed her—his kiss passionate, but overtly possessive. Uncomfortable, she pressed the palms of her hands into his chest, in an attempt to push away, but Sirius’s grip tightened. She felt the nauseating squeeze of Apparition and opened her eyes to the sunlight of her bedroom.
She licked her swollen bottom lip. “But, I thought—”
Sirius smirked. “Silencing Charms…”
Althea vigorously shook her head. She heard chuckling behind her. She blinked, rubbing her forehead, as she turned to face the two men. Sirius—amused—stood in the doorway that led to the veranda, leaning against the doorframe with his arms folded. Remus stood next to him, smiling as well. Althea felt her cheeks flush and she sheepishly tucked a curl behind her ear. How long had the two men stood there as she daydreamed?
She looked at her sandaled feet as Remus spoke, “Daily Prophet’s here…. Padfoot’s supposedly in Saint Tropez now.”
Sirius sighed and smiled smugly as he leaned against the veranda railing. “Cyprus…Alexandria…Saint Tropez,” he said, resting the back of his head against the white column, “I believe the Aurors just want a holiday.”
“It could be,” Remus replied, his lips twisted into a smirk. “If we read next the Aurors searching a topless beach, we’ll find it highly suspect.”
Sirius closed his eyes and laughed a deep, quiet laugh. “Moody at a topless beach,” he remarked, the volume of his laughter raised as he continued his thought.
“It wouldn’t matter—”
“I know,” Sirius replied, matter-of-fact, “I’m imagining Moody in disguise. I reckon those legs—excuse me, leg—have never felt the sun.” He slightly opened his left eye—his grey eye peeking through the thick, black lashes—it directed at Althea. He smiled wickedly. “‘Constant vigilance, Black! Don’t be caught off guard by a Death Eater with your trousers about your ankles,’” he mimicked in a mediocre impersonation of Moody.
“I’m surprised you didn’t fight naked, then,” she remarked, sitting atop the veranda railing.
“I threatened to,” he replied and sighed with feigned disappointment, “but James intervened.” He opened his eyes wide and turned his attention to Remus. “Is Moody still working?”
“No,” Remus replied, unfolding his arms and standing up straight, “he’s retired. Well-deserved, too.”
“Indeed, mate,” he agreed, scratching the top of his head. Smoothing his hair, he smiled and winked conspiratorially at Althea. “Right,” he began, casually crossing his leg in front of him, “what had you so pensive?”
Althea fought a frown. “I believe I’ll have a look at the Daily Prophet,” she said uneasily as she stood from the railing. “I’ll leave you both to talk.”
Althea sighed as she entered the kitchen, and she smoothed the hair away from her face as she looked at the unrolled Daily Prophet on the table. The prison photograph of Sirius on the front page caused her to shudder. After she sat in the chair, her fingertips slid the Daily Prophet closer to her and she took in a deep gulp of air. The thick, matted, dirty hair hung to his elbows and partially covered his emaciated face as he continued to sneer. She lifted her eyes to look out her kitchen window at Sirius. To her relief and delight, he did not look like that man in the photograph. He was happy and smiling, and not the menacing, crazed man in the newspaper. It was her Sirius. Sirius continued to lean against the column as Remus spoke with him, and ever so often, Sirius’s eyes would wander to look at Althea. Althea produced a meager smile. He forgave you, she thought, looking at the photograph. It doesn’t matter to him.
“But it does matter,” she murmured, scanning the article.
He doesn’t know everything, she thought as she read about the Muggle couple that spotted Sirius sunbathing. So much has happened and he wants to continue as if he never left. She was not in her early twenties anymore, but strangely, Sirius was—or at least his mind was that of a twenty-something boy. He was a living relic of her past, of the time when all Althea had to care about was if Sirius would return home on his motorbike unscathed from a duel with a Death Eater. She never felt so old.
“Maybe you should follow his lead,” she muttered, flipping through the Daily Prophet to page four to continue the article, “and forget…. You’ve forgotten yourself.”
Althea sat upright as she heard them walk toward the kitchen door.
“It’s a gift,” Sirius said as they entered. “Take it. We have loads of spare cases.”
Remus laughed uncomfortably as he sat across from Althea. “Thank you, but—”
“For once,” Sirius interrupted, leaning forward from his chair, “forget your misplaced pride and accept a gift.”
“I’ve been telling him for years, Sirius. It won’t work,” she remarked and gasped at the photograph on the next page. “Oh, no,” she muttered, her eyes widening as she looked upon the toad-faced woman with the hideous, pink bow in her hair.
Sirius placed his hand on her forearm. “What’s wrong?”
Althea continued to stare at the woman, who by her photograph was frowning deeply at the addendum to the werewolf legislation that did not pass. “Werewolf sweat,” she murmured in disbelief, her eyes becoming painfully dry from lack of blinking. “I know her.”
Althea felt her hands start to tremble and she quickly retracted them under the table. She’s the woman—the woman who was before me at Pulcheria Oswin’s book signing. She blinked—the image of the toad-faced woman gazing upon Oswin adoringly flashed in her mind’s eye. A joke to Althea, the woman took such garbage as fact. And now, in her current position within the Ministry, she was able to introduce legislation to satisfy those beliefs at the peril of Remus’s future.
“Who?” Sirius asked and grabbed the newspaper that was before her. Sirius looked at the picture and shuddered, making a face. “How do you know her?” he asked incredulously, pointing to the woman’s photograph. “She’s the bitch that wants to ruin Remus’s life!”
Althea shyly looked at Remus. “Well, I don’t know her,” she replied quietly, wringing her hands in her lap. “I met her briefly…once.”
“Where?” he snorted, leaning back in his chair.
She took a nervous breath and laughed quietly, awkwardly. “Oh, at a book signing a few years ago,” she explained, refusing to look Sirius in the eye.
“What could you possibly have in common with this—this ungodly, awful-looking woman?”
She looked at Remus once more, and he gave her a warning look. “I was in queue—ghastly woman,” she said and chewed her bottom lip. “Believed all the awful and ridiculous things said about werewolves…you know, like werecubs and that werewolf sweat was an aphrodisiac—”
Sirius’s bark-like laughter filled her kitchen. “Right, Althea,” he laughed, looking at Althea with great amusement. “Moony’s a bit sweaty after all the packing he’s done, do you fancy him?”
Continuing to laugh, he looked to Remus. The right corner of Remus’s mouth lifted in a humorless smile. Sirius seemed to revel in his clueless teasing of the pair. Uneasiness befell Althea’s stomach. God, Sirius, don’t, she thought, massaging her abdomen.
Althea hiccoughed as she looked from Remus back to Sirius. “No,” she replied and bit her bottom lip.
“Are you sure?” Sirius asked eagerly, leaning forward in his chair with a mischievous grin. “We could have him run about for a few minutes and see.”
“No, it’s not necessary,” she replied, fidgeting in her chair. “It’s not true.”
Sirius waved his hand dismissively as he sat back. “Of course, it isn’t true,” he scoffed, tossing the newspaper toward Remus. “What sort of book signing was this anyway?”
Althea inhaled sharply. She looked to her hands and closed her eyes. What other photographs would she have to conceal? What innocuous word or phrase would remind her of her past and would begin questions she was reluctant to answer? I knew this wouldn’t last, she thought, fighting the urge to start crying and blurting out her entire past. Slowly, she opened her eyes and continued to look at her hands, now white from clenching them tightly together.
“It was a book signing for Pulcheria Oswin,” she said quietly.
For a few moments, Sirius remained quiet, and finally, she heard him sigh. Oh, God, he’ll want to know why and it will all fall apart, she thought, nervously looking up at him.
“She was a Death Eater, Althea,” Sirius said, his chair on its back two legs. “Why would you—”
“I know,” she muttered, her stomach collapsing on itself. “She was my father’s colleague and lover…and she betrayed him.”
With a loud crack, Sirius’s chair slammed against the kitchen floor. His face was very pale and he remained silent. He knows, she thought, catching her breath. It was no use to hide her secret anymore. She would have to tell him her secret of Kelly Derry. She chewed her bottom lip—at least of Oswin, but she knew Sirius would conclude the rest. He might understand if I tell him the circumstances, she thought, looking toward Remus. Remus’s mouth was slightly open, somewhat thunderstruck, and his eyebrows were deeply furrowed. He shook his head slightly as if begging her not to tell. Althea inhaled a ragged breath as she looked from Remus to Sirius. They were Death Eaters after all.
“She was the one?” Sirius asked.
Sirius licked his lips and guiltily looked ahead of him.
“I wanted to expose her for what she was, but—”
“But you didn’t have the chance,” Sirius continued, his expression grim, “that Derry killed her.”
It felt as though someone had poured a pitcher ice water down her chest and abdomen, which caused her to catch her breath.
“Yes,” she whispered, placing her hands on the table to steady herself, “that Derry killed her.” She looked to her hands and remembered the warm, oozing blood of Pulcheria Oswin on them. “You have to understand that I was different then. I had so much rage inside me. I felt betrayed by everyone I loved…my father…you…and to some extent, Lily—”
Althea nodded sadly. “None of you were supposed to leave—see, I wasn’t in my right mind,” she explained, curling her fingers. “I don’t believe I am now, either….” She inhaled a slow, deep breath and loudly exhaled, furrowing her eyebrows. “I thought that if I’d do this one thing…that I’d have everything back. I didn’t know I could, but I was so desperate—”
“We all were desperate,” Remus interrupted and Althea heard him shift in his seat. “We all have regrets…. I regret not taking better care of you, Althea.”
Althea looked up from her hands to Remus. “It is my fault,” she replied, her eyes beseeching him to let her tell Sirius. “No one else is to blame."
Her eyes traveled to Sirius, who was looking at her with the utmost confusion.
"I went to expose her for what she was, but I didn't have enough proof," she explained, her voice somewhat pleading. "I needed time. I needed her to trust me...and that's where I went horribly wrong—"
"Don't regret that you didn't have a chance to expose Oswin," Sirius said and his lips upturned into a faint, cruel smile. “Derry saved you the trouble of a trial.”
"Oh, God," she breathed.
She wanted to scream. She wanted to stand from the table and shout at him that, unhinged by war and loss, it was she who plunged the knife in Oswin’s abdomen and left her to die. It was she who forced Hare to swallow a bag of Galleons and ruthlessly taunted Burke before she slit their throats, and laughed at Wakefield’s fiancée at trial. Sirius Black unknowingly sat across from the murderess, and she was too overcome with fear to let the words escape her.
"A nasty piece of work," Sirius replied and scratched his chin.
“Yes—yes, she was,” she replied weakly—a sob caught in her throat.
“Look, the national team was named,” Remus said, pointing to the sport section of the Prophet. "I reckon that's more—”
“I remember her, though—Derry,” he said quietly, seeming to look through the table. “I remember all of them.” He sighed deeply and chewed his bottom lip, as Althea remained quiet. He rubbed the side of his face with his palm and continued, “I feel sorry for her now…. They brought her past my cell…. She had this wild red hair and this massive rage—”
Althea saw the happiness drain from him—the dark, tormented shell of an Azkaban prisoner remained. She had to stop this.
“Let’s not speak of this,” she interrupted as Sirius went further inside himself. “This isn’t necessary. Please, it’s—”
“—I looked at her, and for a moment, I thought it was you,” he continued and looked into her eyes. “Ridiculous, right?”
Althea’s fingernails dug into the wood grain of the table as she nodded. In Alexandria, Allegra spoke of the moment Althea was carried past Sirius’s cell—as though he saw a ghost. She swallowed. His expression was so sad, so pathetic—his fragility frightened her. In time, when he’s recovered, she thought, her fingernails leaving marks in the table. Just be his Althea.
“She would scream that I killed you” he explained and paused, furrowing his eyebrows. “How—how could she? You’re alive and—”
Althea inhaled an uncomfortable breath. “To be cruel,” she whispered.
Sirius nodded slowly. “Maybe,” he murmured and Althea exhaled a slow breath.
Without provocation, Sirius lifted his sleeve to show a small scar on his bicep. I did that to him, she thought as Sirius explained how he received the scar. They would shout to outdo one another. There was no true joy in Azkaban, but one could find enjoyment in torment and pain. She felt a pleasurable release when she knew the sharpened chair leg had connected with flesh. She laughed at his yelps of pain and the filthy words he called her.
“Please,” she began, her voice strained, “let me mend that for you.”
“No—really—it’s all right,” he replied, unrolling his sleeve. “I could’ve removed it if I wanted to—”
“You don’t?” she asked, her throat painfully constricted.
“I don’t,” he answered, resting his hand over where the scar would be. “
It’s a reminder.”
Althea’s stomach twisted. “Of what?”
“Of what could happen to all of us—”
“Right,” Remus said, standing. “I’m thirsty. Is anyone else thirsty? Althea?” he asked and Althea gave him a grateful look.
“Yes,” she said hoarsely, furrowing her eyebrows. “I’m very thirsty, thank you.”
“No, mate,” Sirius answered and frowned thoughtfully. “I need a walk, though.”
“Are you sure?” Remus asked, taking three tall glasses from the cupboard.
“Yeah,” he said, standing. He nodded as he mentally solidified his decision. “Yeah, a walk…and I probably should feed Buckbeak.”
As soon as Sirius exited, Althea leaned forward, resting her head against her folded arms. He remembers everything, she thought as she shook from crying. I had to lie to him again! I’m such a coward…but he was so pathetic, I couldn’t. Oh, if only I hadn’t seen that odious woman’s face in the newspaper! How many more lies will I have to tell…? I wish I could strangle her with that bloody pink ribbon!
Althea heard Remus slide a chair to her side. “I’m sorry,” he said ruefully, gently gliding his hand up and down her back. “I hadn’t read it—I just read the front page—if I’d known—”
“There was no way,” she forced herself to say, choking on tears.
Althea sat up, wiped the wet hair away from her face, and looked to Remus. She hiccoughed as she opened her mouth to speak. Instead, she rested her tear-stained face against’ Remus’ shoulder, and Remus’s arms reluctantly embraced her. Was lying to Sirius the answer? Was it not better to tell him the truth, instead of investing herself in him only to have him forsake her? To hate her? What is better, she asked herself, her face and Remus’ shoulder moist with her tears, to have him hate me now or to have him hate me later? Althea envisioned Sirius discovering on his own the truth of her murderous past. She clutched Remus’s robes as she thought of his rage, his disgust, and his outright hatred of her for keeping such an enormous secret.
“You know,” he murmured, “Sirius could return and it wouldn’t look good if I was holding you.”
“I don’t care,” she replied and sniffed loudly. “I can’t lie to him anymore…. I have to tell him everything.”
“Everything? Oh, Althea, no,” he warned quietly, stroking the back of her head. “He’s so happy…. Don’t ruin this,” he insisted, lifting her face from his shoulder. “He’s safe here, and if you tell him, he’ll leave. He could be captured or killed and you’d never forgive yourself then…. You have a second chance—”
“We’re not together,” she corrected and sniffed back more tears. “Friends and nothing more.”
Remus frowned thoughtfully. “I doubt you’ll have a another chance,” he replied, stroking her chin with his thumb. “Tell him in sixty years or so when he’s absolutely dependent upon you, and you’re the only person that can find his misplaced reading glasses.”
“It’s so easy for you to say,” she said, frowningly deeply. “You have nothing to lose—”
“I have everything,” he replied. “There many things he’s never told you, Althea. Things, I believe, you would never forgive.”
“Like what?” she asked, her bottom lip quivering.
“Just know that he has his secrets too—all of us do,” he answered, narrowing his eyes. “Some things are better left unsaid.”
Thank you so much for reading! Thank you for all of the comments and questions I have received. What is in store for Althea? A tiny owl with big news.