Chapter 2 : I saw the danger, and yet I walked....
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"On my bloody birthday? You can right well bugger off and never come back!"
A door slams and Marlene McKinnon is pulled from her fear induced shakes. It is not an attack; no one is coming to steal her away. No, it is just an angry girlfriend kicking her boyfriend out of the house. The tension in the young witch's body slackens, the energy diffusing from her pores.
"Nothing to worry about," she thinks to herself soothingly as she takes in deep breaths and lets her face fall into its calm mask, "Nothing to fear."
She allows her body to relax and her mind with it. The rain is just now stopping, hanging precariously in the dark, swirling clouds high above. At the sound of a slamming door, Marlene turns her pale cheeks in its direction, and lets her eyes turn to the building on the street opposite her. A body is trudging away from the tall structure, shoulders bent and face refusing to turn back.
This figure piques the curiosity of Marlene McKinnon, and she watches with interest as he meanders toward a bench near her own. He takes long, painstaking steps in her direction, but never seems to notice her. Marlene focuses on him; anyone who is that oblivious must have something going on in his life. When the boy finally sits down, he leans back, pushing his dark, muddled locks away from his face. It is a face that she recognizes almost instantly. Her heart gives a tiny flutter; her breath catches in her throat. Fate. That is what she thinks. This must be fate.
But she says nothing, not until she gets a better read on him. She steals glances at him from her place on her bench, watching him stare up at the sky as though daring it to rain again. He certainly looks different. He is surely recognizable, but different. She remembers him as the fun-loving, lady-killing, prank-pulling marauder at the center of Hogwarts. But today he is different. Well, if Marlene is putting it perfectly honestly, as she watches him light a cigarette from the corner of her eye, he looks right awful.
He is too absorbed in his thoughts to notice her, but she cannot seem to tear herself away from him. Sirius Black in the flesh. They both work for the Order, but they have not crossed paths since Hogwarts. She can hardly believe the coincidence. Or, is it fate? Either way, she draws in the sight of him, and is stirred by what she sees.
He looks......stuck. That is the only way she can put it. He looks as though he refuses to look back, but like he cannot find the strength to move forward. Sirius takes a long, heavy drag on his cigarette, filling his lungs with the nicotine, and Marlene leans up from the side of the bench, locking her arms around her knees and leaning in toward him. She sees something about him, perhaps it is the eyes or the sunken cheeks or the way his entire body sinks as if he wants to go through the ground. Whatever it is, there is something that makes her say-
"Who is she?"
Sirius jolts, his whole body shaking as though startled. The cigarette falls from between his fingers, crunching against the wet pavement at his side. In the moment just before, he had been thinking about nothing. He used the nicotine and the angry looking sky to drown out any and all thought or noise around him. Today, it seems, will just be one of those days for him.
But then that voice, quiet, cool, and encouraging, cuts through all of that. His head swivels toward her, his dark hair whipping away from his face. The entire attention of his grey eyes focus on her; she can feel their intensity across the small distance separating them. Sirius, for himself, is assessing her with great interest. Something vaguely familiar tugs in the back of his mind at the sight of her face, but he cannot seem to place her in any of his mental portraits. He gives a quick look around, wondering and even hoping that she is talking to someone else. But there is no one around, and her wide, earnest eyes focus squarely on him. She is talking to him, this vaguely familiar and widely smiling girl. He barely turns his body in her direction and inclines his head toward her.
"I'm sorry?" He asks, having heard her speak, but not the words she said.
She pushes herself along to wooden bench so she is at the furthest edge, closest to him. Sirius watches as she puts her chin on her knees and repeats the question without pretense or frustration.
"Who is she?"
The question takes him aback, and Marlene can see that. His eyes widen ever so slightly, the first truly lively action she has seen from him since he appeared in her view, and he turns his gaze from her toward the old building he left moments ago, just across the road from them. He shrugs and leans back against the bench, staring up at his now ex-girlfriend's window. The shades are shut against the world; they look just as cut off from the world as he feels. With a shrug of his shoulders, Sirius sighs and busies himself with another cigarette.
"Nobody. Just a girl."
He is not sure why he is even speaking to this person, divulging his life to her. For all he knows, this girl could be a psychotic stalker, a Death Eater, even. There is a war going on, after all. Speaking to strange women is certainly not part of his job description in The Order. But something about the intensity, the directness of her stare and her energy roots him to the spot and loosens his tongue. Marlene shakes her head and brushes his answer away with her lithe fingers. That is not the question she is asking.
"No, no. Not her. Who's the girl you're looking for?"
This is not what Sirius expects to come out of the girl's mouth; he pauses with the small lighter halfway to his lips, crushing his eyebrows together in confusion. Turning his face back toward her, he pulls the cigarette out of his mouth. He runs his tongue along his bottom teeth as he considers her for a long moment. Eyebrows lifted ever so slightly, Marlene waits patiently for his answer. She looks at him expectantly, her entire body curled around herself and toward him as though she might draw the answer from his mind by being closer. Finally, he quips a response with a snarky tilt of his head. He is not in the mental state to accept someone's concern, not today.
"Who says I'm looking for anyone?"
She is unfazed by his snark; though he doesn't recognize her, she recognizes him and remembers the smart attitude. This is part of the Sirius she remembers. Allowing herself a beat to take the full look of him in, she nods her head once toward him.
"You do," she says simply as her hand drifts to her chin.
This draws even more confusion from Sirius. Unable to help himself from appearing interested in this odd girl, he pulls himself closer. But before he can speak on his befuddlement, she speaks again. Smile slipping and features morphing into something contemplative and concerned, she furrows her brows at him and tries to explain in him what it is exactly that she sees.
"Your eyes, your body. They all tell me you're looking for someone. It isn't her," Marlene flutters her fingers in the direction of the girl's building without diverting her attention from Sirius, "But it is someone. You are looking for someone. And it makes you-"
Marlene struggles for the word. Her hand ghosts upward and vaguely traces the outline of his figure. It stops limply once the simple word escapes her lips.
She finally settles on that one syllable because it is the only thing that even comes close to describing the disaster she sees before her. Eyes wandering away from him and toward the ground at her side, she gives him a moment to think on her words just as she does.
"Yes. Lost," she repeats, letting the word roll around on her tongue, surprised at how well it seems to fit him.
Her disposition shifts completely as she shrugs and lets the smile grow once more. There's no need for her to be pensive any longer.
"So, who is she?"
Sirius is knocked off guard by this woman's sudden, personal interpretation of his character. He ignores her question and focuses instead on her judgement.
"I'm not lost," he defends.
Marlene scoffs. She knows better. If months of solitude have taught her anything, it is how to read people with surprising accuracy.
"If you are not lost, then where are you going?" She quips gently.
He smirks, though the light in his face does not fill his eyes.
"Home. Once some crazy girl off the street stops harassing me," he punctuates the last few words and she supposes she should be offended.
But she is not. Instead, she is hung up on this girl of his. Is she a missed connection that he always hopes to find on his morning walks? Is she the one who got away?
"That's not what I mean. I'll leave you alone if you tell me about the girl you're looking for."
Sirius splutters and rises to his feet at her insistence.
"I'm not looking for anybody," he defends, his voice rising.
But they both know he is lying. Just a few moments ago, in the pub, he thought with envious shade about the relationship James and Lily have. He is looking for someone. There is only one problem. He doesn't know who she is. After a moment, a long moment of silence where the pair stare each other down, her wide eyes probing his without relent as he struggles with her intrusion.
"She's-" he pauses and sits back down on the bench with a weighted sigh as he rubs his eyes, "She's nowhere. She's in my mind, I guess."
Sirius considers his words for a moment as the girl at his side nods in small upward tilts of her chin. He furrows his brow and looks at her.
"Can I go now?"
She stands, kicking her legs out before her and straightening her skirt like a small child in her first pretty outfit.
"No," she says smartly, a smile curving just one end of her small lips.
Finally pocketing his carton of cigarettes and the muggle contraption called a lighter that James bought him weeks ago, Sirius turns with his head ducked toward her. She is in deep thought, pacing back and forth as she rolls over Sirius' dilemma in his mind.
"We must find her. Your girl," her smile grows as the idea swirls around in her head; the possibility of helping someone, truly helping them, makes her joy ripple under every syllable she utters.
Quirking an eyebrow at the suggestion, Sirius looks up, laughter playing on his lips. There is no way she thinks he will agree to something like this.
"We?" He asks, the ghost of amusement playing across his face.
She nods and turns, continuing her excited pacing. Marlene has been cooped in a house, deprived of company and adventure, for weeks now. This is fate that she should meet someone who needs her help, someone she already knows.
"Yes. We," she says, emphasizing the last word as though she is speaking to a small child, "You cannot find your way without a map."
The explanation is simple and gentle, but Sirius feels scolded all the same by her simple words. Lashing out a few thoughtless words, he lets his frustration flow toward her full force.
"Don't you know there's a war on, girl? I don't even know you."
He rises to his feet and adjusts his jacket. Turning his back to her, he begins to walk in the direction of home.
"My father killed himself a month ago rather than join the Death Eaters and I have spent the last few weeks in the protective custody of the Order of the Pheonix."
She does not say the words in any kind of detached fashion, but Marlene does not exactly feel like they are apart of her, either. The words do not come out angrily; they do not try to put the boy in his place. They are the most simple statements of fact. They have nothing to prove. They are simply informative and light, in spite of the depth of their impact. She watches Sirius stiffen.
"So, yes, I know there is a war on."
He turns and looks at her, his eyes narrowing. He heard about the McKinnon man a few weeks ago, but surely he would have recognized.....
"Marlene McKinnon?" He asks.
She shoves her hands in her pockets and smiles a small, tight-lipped smile at him.
"Glad of you to notice."
Sirius allows himself the slightest of moments to reel at her sudden appearance in his life. Of course, they both work for the Order, but their paths are vastly different. Having not been close in their school days, they lost touch after graduation. Now that he gets a good look at her, she looks almost the same. The same blonde hair, the same bright eyes, the same cool smile. But an angry scar drags down the base of her face down past her collarbone, telling a story, and her disheveled appearance keeps her from looking exactly the same as four years ago. He wonders if he should say something. Should he apologize for her loss? Should he offer some kind of apology for not recognizing her sooner? He is mercifully saved from having to make any kind of decision by her return to the point.
"But, we have to find you this girl. That's the important bit. Tomorrow you'll look, and I will help."
She speaks simply, and Sirius listens to the gentle Irish lilts in her voice. The words come out in the dialect so sweetly that they sound learned, rather than passed down by 21 generations of Irish heritage.
"And what's in it for you?" Sirius asks.
Her pacing halts, and she turns her head in genuine curiosity at his thinly veiled accusation.
"Who says there's anything in it for me?"
Sirius smirks and looks down at her.
"People always want something."
Allowing herself a moment to think about that, she checks her watch. She is late. No time to answer his question.
"We'll meet tomorrow and start our search, alright?"
She begins walking away.
"But you don't know where I live! How will you find me?" Sirius calls after her.
Taking a few steps in a circle as she continues down the path to the safe house so she can see him, she smiles the widest smile she has in spite the Hell of trouble she is about to find herself in.
"This is fate that we meet today. I'm sure I can find you tomorrow."
And, as the rain starts to fall again, Sirius stands on the sidewalk and watches until Marlene McKinnon's figure is nothing but a speck in the distance.
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