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Innocent by MarauderLover7
Chapter 64 : Dora And The Dictionary
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9


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The rest of July passed quickly after Sirius’ meeting with Gawain. The majority of his time was still spent with Harry – whether they were working on Harry’s slow-going Anmagus incantation, or flying at Remus’, or playing games of chess and Exploding Snap. Then, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, he’d leave for the Ministry just after lunch, and return in time for dinner.

After his first few days, he’d returned home with a headache and sore throat; he and Robards did a lot of talking, and a lot of reading and brainstorming to try to work out where in the muggle world Marlene might have hidden herself. He was also usually exasperated by all the stares; he’d have thought the novelty of seeing him walk around Level Two might have worn off after the first few times, but no such luck. It really did seem that the people of wizarding Britain had nothing better to do than gawk at Sirius wherever he went.

Had it happened during his school years, he’d probably have loved all the attention... though back then, he’d probably have done something to earn it; some prank with one of the other Marauders, or an impressive performance in Quidditch. All he’d done to earn their current scrutiny, was be a victim of the Ministry’s rather significant blunder... and associated himself with Harry. Neither of those were things he particularly approved of being given celebrity-status for, and as such, he rather wished everyone’d find themselves something else to stare at.

Despite all the hassle of coming into the Ministry, however, Sirius would be lying if he said he wasn’t enjoying it. It was nice to get out of the house and go somewhere other than Remus’, Wolpole’s, or the park across from Grimmauld. And, it was nice to feel like he was doing something; he hadn’t realised how much he’d missed having a job until he had one again.

He liked the challenge of trying to solve puzzles, he liked the feeling that he was helping someone – even though he was yet to find Marlene and so wasn’t really helping her directly yet, he was certainly helping Robards – and he liked the fact that about a week after he started, he had the brainwave that perhaps she’d admitted herself to a muggle hospital, which meant that he and Robards were out and about asking questions and looking for clues, rather than stuck inside.

He also liked the fact, that – while they hadn’t made much process – it felt like they were already narrowing down their options, and that it was only a matter of time before they found her. That feeling of accomplishment was something Sirius was greatly looking forward to, after being denied it with that stupid locket for so long.

“There are still a few we haven’t checked,” Robards said, one afternoon in late July. He was sitting at his desk and Sirius was leaning over his shoulder. Both were looking at an enormous map of muggle London and the red crosses which showed which hospitals they’d visited.

“I can do that one tomorrow, if you’d like,” Sirius said, tapping the map.

“You don’t work tomorrow,” Robards said, twisting around in his chair to raise an eyebrow at Sirius. Sirius shrugged.

“I’m heading that way anyway. Besides, I’m not coming in on Saturday, because-”

“It’s the thirty-first,” Robards said, nodding. He turned back to the map. “I know. I’ll try to cover what’s left of the hospitals before next week. If I don’t find anything, we can talk on Wednesday about our next move, and if I do-”

“You’ll send me a letter,” Sirius said. He’d installed a muggle letter box on Number Twelve’s front fence. It had no number on it, just a painted pawprint that he, Harry and Remus had had far too much fun administering one sunny afternoon last week. Because the owls needed to know the Secret to be able to find either Sirius or Harry inside the boundary of the Fidelius Charm, they’d set up an external drop-off point; all letters addressed to ‘Padfoot’s Place’ would find their way to him, though so far, Robards and Dumbledore were the only people he’d told about it, and Robards was the only one who’d used it. “Or call me through the Sidekick.”

“That I wi-”

“Wotcher, Ro- oh!” Sirius and Robards both glanced up to see a green-haired Dora and a tallish boy standing in front of them, looking sheepish. “Sorry, we didn’t mean to-”

Robards glanced at Sirius who waved and cleared the desk – the boy was looking curiously at the map – and deposited everything in the filing cabinet in the corner. He rather wished he could climb into the drawer too; he recognised the boy now – it was the trainee from the night with the Dementors down in the holding cell – and the last time he’d seen Dora had been after the full moon, when she’d wanted to speak to Remus. He didn’t know how his presence would be received this time, and was a little afraid to find out.

“No news, I’m afraid, but we’re looking,” Robards said, gesturing for them to come in. Sirius backed away a bit; the cubicle was relatively small, and seemed even smaller with four people crammed inside.

“We?” the trainee asked, his eyes landing on Sirius at once. Dora looked surprised as well, which surprised Sirius in turn; Remus hadn’t told her? She got a thoughtful look on her face a moment later, however, and then nodded, as if it made perfect sense... Sirius supposed it probably did.

“How long for?” Dora asked.

“As long as it takes,” Sirius replied. She held his gaze for a moment longer, and then beamed. She took a step forward, and for a moment, Sirius thought she might run up and hug him. Then her hair turned a pale pink – as did her cheeks – and she stepped back into line with the other trainee.

“Do you need us to go,” the other trainee said, “or-”

“Nah, I’m heading off anyway,” Sirius said, and Robards nodded. “See you next week,” he said, giving Robards a little wave. Then he smiled and nodded at Dora and the trainee and slipped out past them. He saw Bones and Scrimgeour talking outside an office on the way to the lift and stopped very briefly to say hello to the pair of them, before he continued on to the lift.

He pressed the button and had just rocked back on his heels to wait when he heard footsteps. He glanced over his shoulder to see Dora – who was alone now – making her way over. She looked a little nervous, but also hopeful.

“Wotcher,” she said lightly, pressing the button for the lift.

“Hi,” Sirius said. He was about to put his hands in his pocket but he caught himself and passed the movement off as patting his pocket for his wand. “Are you... er...” He had no idea what to say, so he gestured to the lift.

“Headed to the atrium,” Dora replied cheerfully. “You too, right?”

“Right,” Sirius said shifting. He wanted to talk to her – he did – he just had absolutely no idea what to say. They were family, and he knew her pretty well through Remus, and through his own – though admittedly, out-dated – experiences, but those things weren’t helping at the moment. After a slightly awkward pause, he cleared his throat, and she looked up hopefully. He wondered if she was just as lost for words as he was. “How are you finding the Program?” She looked relieved and Sirius grinned.

“It’s brilliant,” she said happily. The lift arrived and they stepped into it. Two other men – a tall, balding red-head and an older, white haired one – hurried un just before the doors closed. “Wotcher, Arthur,” she said, and smiled at the other wizard. Both greeted her with smiles and let her press the button for the atrium. The old wizard stared at Sirius rather unabashedly, but the younger one – Arthur - just smiled at Sirius and then started flipping through a stack of papers in his hands. “A bit full on at times,” Dora said, startling Sirius, “but that’s to be expected. Mostly.” She looked worried for a moment and then shook her head as if to dismiss the thought.

“Things happen,” Sirius agreed.

“Mmm. Hopefully things settle after the break,” she said, though she didn’t look comforted by that thought.

“Remus mentioned you had exams last week,” Sirius said. Dora’s eyes turned a warm brown at the mention of Remus, and Sirius wondered if she realised. He tried not to smile and failed miserably.

“My last one was on Monday,” she said. “And- what’s funny?”

“Nothing,” Sirius said. Dora pursed her lips, and looked uncannily like McGonagall when she did so. Sirius noted that even her nostrils were flaring. “Merlin, that’s scary,” he said. Arthur chuckled quietly in the corner, and Dora looked rather pleased with herself, but also a little suspicious. After a moment, she let the matter drop.

“So how long have you been helping Robards?” she asked.

“Nearly two weeks,” he said.

“So you’re worried too?” she asked heavily.

“I guess so,” he sighed.

“And you really don’t have anything?”

“A few guesses,” Sirius said, rubbing his chin. “Nothing solid, which is a pain in the-”

“Atrium,” the lift’s cool voice announced. Arthur was laughing as he and the old wizard stepped out; Dora had a hand over her mouth and her shoulders were shaking.

“But we’re looking,” Sirius said, leading the way out of the lift, “and the more places we search and don’t find her brings us that much closer to the one she’s at.” He shrugged helplessly, and Dora nodded. They stood in silence for a moment. “I suppose I’ll see you around,” he said, gesturing to the fireplace. She’d already started to move toward her own fireplace.

“I’ll keep an eye out,” she said, beaming, and Sirius smiled back in response. Dora gave him a funny look, and then bit her lip. He gave her a moment to say anything she wanted to, but when she remained silent, grabbed a handful of Floo Powder. He was just about to throw it into the flames when a hand grabbed his wrist to stop him.

“Wait!” she said. “Have you had dinner yet?”

“Er, no,” Sirius said, blinking. “That’s where I-”

“Did you want to grab a bite?” she asked. “We’re getting into the habit of seeing each other, having an awkward conversation and then leaving and then repeating the whole thing the next time we run into each other.” Sirius had to admit she was making a very good point. He stepped away from the fireplace to let others use it, and dropped the Floo Powder back into its pot. “We just need to sit down and talk until it’s not awkward anymore,” she said.

“Excellent plan,” he laughed. “Just let me tell the others that I’ll be home later...” He dwindled off, and pulled his mirror out. “Harry Potter,” he said, while Dora looked on curiously. The image in the mirror swam and then focused on the ceiling of one of the rooms at home. “Harry!” he said. “Moony!” He waited and then called again, but no one responded. Dora looked confused.

“Are they okay?” she asked, as he shoved his mirror back into his pocket.

“Probably in the kitchen,” Sirius said, as a witch with curly hair shoved past him, stopped when she realised who he was and started to stammer apologies. “It’s fine,” he said, rolling his eyes. She apologised once more, and then hurried off to a fireplace, looking mortified. “They obviously don’t have it with them, and Moony’s hearing’s good, but it’s not that good,” he told Dora, who was waiting patiently. He grimaced. “And that means they’ll worry if I’m not home in the next half an hour.”

Her face fell, but she nodded and said, “You should go, then. Maybe some other ti-?”

“Do you have anywhere you need to be?” Sirius asked, cutting her off. She shook her head, and he gave her a thoughtful look. She was probably trustworthy; she’d managed to keep Remus’ secrets for the better part of a year, and she was family. There was no reason, now that they knew that he was innocent, that he couldn’t reach out to her and Andy and Ted again. He smiled to himself.

And, if Remus finally got his act together and asked her out – which really should have happened months ago – then he’d want to spend more time with her; and that either meant that he’d spend less time with Sirius and Harry at Grimmauld, or that Dora would have to come with him.

“No,” she said warily.

“Your mum won’t worry?”

“She knows how unpredictable the Program can be, even when it’s supposed to be the holidays,” Dora assured him. “Wh-”

“Would you like to come to dinner?” Sirius asked. “Harry’ll be there, and Moony-”

“Like- you mean- at your house?” she asked, wide-eyed.

“At my house, yes,” Sirius said patiently. Her mouth hung open for almost a minute while she apparently tried to decide how to respond to that.

“Are you sure it’s okay? I don’t want to- I mean, where you live is- well, you’ve been very private-”

“Only because I don’t want people to show up unannounced,” he said. Dora blushed.

“Then maybe this isn’t a good idea,” she said.

“What do you mean?” he asked, frowning.

“Well,” she said, and her hair turned a playful peachy colour. “Once I know where someone’s house is, I have this terrible habit of inviting myself over all the time. Just ask Remus.” Sirius laughed, and so did Dora, but she looked nervous. “Are you really sure that-”

“Come on,” Sirius said. Dora smiled nervously and headed toward the fireplace. Sirius shook his head, well aware that he’d probably end up making a fool of himself if he tried to tell her their Floo address. He was bound by the Secret, and so mentioning Grimmauld Place in any context that involved him or Harry would result in him being tongue-tied, like Remus had been with Dumbledore. Sirius had got a lot of enjoyment out of that story, but didn’t really want a repeat. “We’ll have to Apparate. Do you have anything against Side-Along?”

*                   *                     *

Sirius anticipated Dora’s stumble upon landing, and so was able to catch her. She thanked him, blushing, and then glanced around, probably trying to get her bearings. It didn’t take long. Her eyes locked onto Number Thirteen, and then widened.

“You live near McKinnon?!” she asked.

“Neighbours,” he replied. He started toward Number Twelve, and heard her following. He felt bad for seeming a bit abrupt, but he wasn’t sure how much he could say without being caught by the Charm. So, he said nothing else. He saw her eyeing off the letterbox, and the snake on the door.

“Here?” she asked. Sirius smiled and stepped past her toward the door, making her jump. “Sirius?” she called, worriedly. She glanced around and pulled out her wand. Sirius stared at her, but her eyes never landed on him. It took Sirius a moment to realise what had happened.

“Guess we know it works,” he muttered, and she didn’t even blink; she was still glancing between the front door and the street.

“Sirius?” she asked again, and he stepped off the top step, and out of the Fidelius Charm’s protection. She shrieked and he had to duck as a pink jinx whizzed past his ear. “Sorry!” she gasped. “Sorry- you were just- startled- how-” Sirius laughed, and inspected the small dent her spell had made in the wall behind him.

“I forgot about the top step,” he said apologetically. “I think it’s best if you wait here – I’ll get Harry and he can let you in.”

“Get-” she said, and then trailed off as Sirius disappeared to her eyes again. He tapped the front door with his wand – she didn’t appear to notice that either – and stepped into the lit hallway. The floorboard creaked as he closed the front door; Dora didn’t notice that either, though she was squinting at the house rather intently.

“Hello?” Sirius called, and he heard Remus call a greeting in reply. “I need a hand with something!” There was a pause; they were obviously sharing a look, or one of them had said something, and then he heard chairs scrape and then footsteps; Harry appeared at the top of the kitchen stairs, followed only a few seconds later by Remus. They both looked curious. “Can you get the door, Moony?” Sirius didn’t really fancy being hexed, or risking Harry; Remus, on the other hand, wasn’t protected by the charm and so would be perfectly visible.

Remus gave Sirius an odd look, but strode over and pulled the door open without voicing anything. Then he froze. Sirius couldn’t see his face, but he was willing to bet there was a silly grin on it.

“Is that Dora?” Harry asked. He sounded reasonably sure, but she did always look slightly different, so his question was a valid one.

“That’s her,” Sirius agreed, ruffling Harry’s hair. Dora spotted Remus, beamed and bounced forward to give him a hug. She looked past him, into the house, but her eyes slid right over Sirius and Harry. “Just let her know we’re coming out,” Sirius said to Remus, who nodded and relayed the message.

“So no hexes,” Sirius added, guiding Harry forward.

“No hexes,” Remus said, and Dora looked sheepish. Harry went first – Sirius noticed Remus brushed her arm just before he came into sight, so that she wouldn’t be startled – and then Sirius followed.

“This is bizarre,” she said, shaking her head at them.

“Fidelius Charm,” Remus told her. Harry took her arm and led her inside, the way he had with Snape early last year. She followed him – tripping over the doorway as she went, though thankfully she didn’t fall – and Sirius and Remus exchanged a look and followed them inside.

“So what are you doing here?” Remus asked, as Sirius shut the door. Dora was looking around with interest.

“Well,” Sirius said, with a grin, “she asked me out to dinner-” Remus’ expression changed a little, though Sirius was having trouble reading it. “-and I suggested we eat here instead.”

“I see,” Remus said, pursing his lips, and it was then that Sirius was able to place his expression and scent; jealousy, and perhaps a bit of irritation. Sirius’ grin widened.

“We’re always so awkward,” Sirius said, grimacing. “Dinner seemed like a good way to get comfortable with each other.” Dora nodded absently, and Remus huffed, glancing between them. Harry was hovering awkwardly by the bottom of the stairs, apparently not sure what to make of the situation.

“Merlin, this place is fancy,” Dora said, noticing the chandelier.

“Would you like a tour?” Sirius asked, giving her his most charming smile. Harry’s eyes widened slightly, and he slipped away, headed upstairs. There was no doubt in Sirius’ mind that he was probably going to try to shove everything under his bed, or into his wardrobe before they reached the upper level.

“I’ll show her around, if you’d like,” Remus said, in a voice that was probably meant to be casual. Dora cocked her head at him, and Sirius raised an eyebrow. “You’ve been working all afternoon. You should probably sit down.”

“I’m fine, Moony, honestly,” Sirius said. He put an arm around Dora’s shoulders – he felt awkward for doing so, but he also knew it would annoy the hell out of Remus – and gestured into the study. “This is-”

“And,” Remus interrupted, “You haven’t spent any time with Harry all afternoon.” Sirius realised he’d crossed a line and was close to making Remus angry. He released Dora.

“He knows my weakness,” he said, grinning at her. “Just makes sure you show her where all the bathrooms are, Rem.” With that, he transformed into Padfoot and bolted up the stairs.

“Wicked!” he heard Dora exclaim, and heard Remus groan.

Harry, surprisingly, was not in his bedroom; he was in the library, filling one of the desk drawers with bits of parchment, and several books. Padfoot turned back into Sirius and leaned against the doorway.

“Animagus stuff,” Harry said, without prompting, once he noticed Sirius. “She’s an Auror, and... I mean, you got fined, so I thought-”

“Smart,” Sirius said, and Harry shrugged as if it was nothing. Sirius saw the pleased little grin he was wearing before he turned away, however. “Here I was thinking you’d gone to tidy your room.” Harry looked at him in a way that made Sirius think he was worried for his sanity. Then he smiled crookedly.

“I suppose that’s a hint, isn’t it?” Sirius raised an eyebrow, and Harry gave him a sheepish look. “I’ll do it on the full moon,” he said, and Sirius believed him; Harry tended to get bored while he and Remus were away, and did all sorts of odd jobs that he wouldn’t usually bother with.

“Deal.”

“How was work? Did you-”

“Nope,” Sirius sighed, stepping into the room. Harry asked the same question every time – he could be unnervingly persistent at times – and so Sirius didn’t even have to wait for him to finish before he answered. One day soon, he was hoping that he’d be able to answer yes. He flopped onto the couch while Harry hid the last of the books, and then sat down in the armchair opposite him. “How’d lessons go this afternoon?”

“Fine,” Harry said, shrugging. “We’re just about at the end of Matt’s year four work; Moony thinks we’ll be able to start year five stuff in August.”

“Is it interesting?”

“I s’pose,” Harry said, not sounding overly enthused about it all. There was a pause and then he wrinkled his nose and added, “I really don’t like geography.”

“What do you like?” Sirius asked, hiding a smile. From the look on his face, Harry didn’t like any of the subjects all that much.

“Maths is okay,” Harry offered finally, and then, “Magic is better.”

“You say that,” Sirius said, amused, “because you’ve not yet had the pleasure of one of Professor Binns’ lectures on the goblin wa-”

“Padfoot!” Remus called from somewhere below them. “Kreacher says dinner’s ready!” Harry and Sirius shared a glance and jumped up.

Remus and Dora had already settled themselves in the kitchen; Sirius was amused to see that Remus had taken the seat beside Dora’s at the table. Harry didn’t even seem to have noticed, and sat down, conveniently enough, opposite Remus... which left Sirius opposite Dora. He grinned and sat down.

Remus looked a little smug for a moment, at least until Sirius said, “Excellent.”

“What is?” Remus asked, accepting a bread roll from Kreacher.

“I’m the last person to sit down,” Sirius said, smiling pleasantly, “and yet I’ve got the best seat at the table, directly across from our lovely guest.”

Remus didn’t speak to him for the rest of the meal.

*                       *                       *

Harry’s tenth birthday fell on a Saturday, and, while Sirius insisted he was more than welcome, Remus opted not to head over to Grimmauld until lunchtime, so that Sirius and Harry could have some time together.

He’d expected them to have a large breakfast – courtesy of Kreacher – spend time unwrapping presents (and probably end up attacking each other with the masses of wrapping paper), and then play with the presents, or spend time planning some sort of prank with which to get Remus with upon his arrival.

He had not expected, even in his wildest imaginings, to walk down into the kitchen and find Sirius and Harry sitting at the kitchen table, with Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy. Three (four, when Remus spotted Kreacher) of them were wearing gaudy party hats, though Sirius was the only one who didn’t seem to mind his. Kreacher looked indifferent, but Remus rather suspected he’d been forbidden to take it off.

Harry was tugging at his while he alternated between talking to Draco and sending wary glances at Sirius and Snape. Draco was holding his head very still, and kept reaching for the hat, only to check the movement and drop his hands back into his lap. His pale eyes were fixed rather intently on Sirius. Snape’s hat rested in a crumpled heap, by his elbow, and his expression was sour, though that may just have been because he was talking to Sirius.

“Moony,” Sirius said, spotting him. He flicked his wand and Remus felt a slight weight settle itself on his head. He reached up to confirm that he was indeed wearing a hat like the rest of them. “Had a good morning?” Remus nodded, stunned, and managed to stammer a happy birthday at Harry, who accepted it with a smile – Remus patted his pocket, to tell him they’d do presents later - and then gave Remus a confused sort of shrug, as if he had no idea how whatever this was had happened either.

“Lupin,” Snape drawled.

“Snape,” Remus said, blinking. Sirius waved him over, and Remus staggered in their general direction and sat down between Sirius and Harry. Draco gave him a thoughtful look and then smiled. Remus waved at him, before looking over at Sirius in askance.

Sirius missed the look entirely, however, because he was talking to Snape. Talking. Not yelling. Not insulting. Talking. His tone was a little strained, and a bit too polite to be considered normal, but they were talking. And Snape looked like he was undergoing an unpleasant ordeal, and his tone was clipped, but he was talking back.

“-sound like anything I’ve ever heard of before,” Snape was saying.

“Well, no,” Sirius replied. “I don’t expect it would; I invented it.”

“You?” Snape asked doubtfully. “I’ve heard of- I’ve made potions in my own mind, potions which affect my mental state – a Calming Drought, for instance – but spells-”

“It was complicated,” Sirius said.

“Obviously not, if someone with no former Occlumency experience was able to manage it in a few mere months,” Snape said. There was no bite behind it – just a bit of impatience - which astonished Remus.

“I was working on it full time,” Sirius said. “But most of it was just building off of methods that had already been established. It was only making a wand and casting spells that I really came up-”

“Do you have notes?” Snape asked. Sirius blinked, and Remus could tell from his scent how surprised he was by that particular question.

“I- yeah, loads.” Sirius blinked again, as if he couldn’t believe he was having this conversation. “They’re upstairs-”

“Might I be able to read them?” It looked like it was killing Snape to ask that. Remus’ insides clenched; at any moment, Sirius was going to laugh and say something about not letting Snape get his greasy hands on his hard work. And things would go downhill from there and-

“Yeah, sure. It sort of goes without saying to not let them fall into the wrong hands... and not to let anyone else read-”

“Do I look like an idiot, Black?” Snape drawled.

“A bit,” Sirius said. “I mean, you’re the only one not wearing a party h-”

“You are a fool,” Snape said, rolling his eyes,

“Obviously not, or you wouldn’t want my notes,” Sirius shot back. There was a pause, and then Sirius lifted an eyebrow. Snape opened his mouth, looking irate, but then closed it again and said nothing. Sirius grinned, but quickly hid the expression behind his glass of juice, and for the briefest moment, Remus would have sworn that Snape’s scowl vanished.  

*                      *                      *

“Is something wrong?” Draco asked the side of Potter’s head. “You’re supposed to look at people when they’re talking to you.”

“You’ve been looking over there too,” Potter said, arching an eyebrow. Draco felt the colour rise in his cheeks. He’d asked Mother about the White Sheep a few weeks ago. She’d told him two stories; one about her sister – not Aunt Bella; the other one, Andromeda – and also about Sirius Black, the man sitting not three feet from him now.

And, while Draco was hardly about to run away with a muggleborn like Andromeda, he was now a little afraid that one day, he and his family would clash like Black had clashed with his family. He had a good reason to stare.

“Have not,” Draco said weakly.

“Is it Moony?” Potter asked, and something rather defensive crept into his tone.

“The werewolf?” Draco asked, eying Lupin, who looked completely confused. “No.” Potter gave him a rather wary look. Draco thought he was expecting a self-righteous declaration of how werewolves were inferior. The only werewolf Draco had ever met was Lupin, however, and he seemed all right, even if Father didn’t like him. Draco would never admit it, but he suspected Potter was probably a better judge of character than Father... or he was at least more open minded.

“So what’s- I mean, what is it you’re staring at?” Potter asked.

Draco hesitated. Had anyone else asked – anyone but Severus, or perhaps Mother – he’d have lied. He was a good liar, now, or at least he thought so; when he and Severus played those strange games, Severus often struggled to distinguish between lies and truths. Severus didn’t realise how useful that had become at home, and during dinner parties. He probably just thought it was a strange game. To Draco, though, the skill had become something invaluable, and he wanted to find some way to thank Severus... without necessarily tipping him off; he doubted Severus would approve if he knew.

Draco glanced at Potter again – Potter, who’d given him the most valuable piece of advice anyone had ever given him – except possibly Severus, when he’d scarred Draco’s palm. Potter had told him to stay quiet about his beliefs, particularly around Father, and Potter was the one who’d told him about the sheep in the first place.

“Sheep,” Draco said. Potter glanced at the adults, looking completely bewildered. He straightened his party hat absently, and then looked back at Draco.

“The- what- the sheep?” he asked.

“Yes, Potter,” Draco said, rolling his eyes. Draco liked Potter most of the time, but he was ridiculously daft. “The sheep. The white sheep, from that story...?”

“Oh,” Potter said, his eyes widening. “So you asked about it, then?” Draco nodded curtly.

“It was good advice,” he said quietly.

“Thanks.” Potter fiddled with his hat once more, and then yanked it off and tossed it down, like Severus had done. Relieved, Draco did the same, since he was no longer in danger of being rude; Potter had done it first, and it was his birthday, so he should be able to make the rules. Draco nodded again, a little awkwardly.

“So why are you staring?” he asked.

“Padfoot and Snape don’t get along,” Potter said, his eyes drifting away from Draco again.

“They seem to be doing fine,” Draco commented. They both looked a little tense, but neither seemed too hostile.

“I know,” Potter said, looking unnerved. He blinked and turned back to Draco, who only saw the movement out of the corner of his eye; he was back to watching Black, who was scowling at Lupin. Severus looked amused.

“Potter,” Draco said.

“Malfoy?” Potter said.

“Does Black- is he lonely?” Draco clasped his hands in his lap.

“Not lonely, I don’t think,” Potter said, after a moment. “Wh-”

“Does he miss his family?” Draco blurted.

“His blood family, or his real one?” Potter asked, pushing his glasses up.

There’s no difference, Draco thought, exasperated, and decided that Potter was an idiot.

“Never mind,” he said dismissively. Potter frowned – perhaps he didn’t like Draco’s tone – but let the matter drop. It got a little awkward after that, but Draco didn’t really care; things were always awkward for him, lately, even around his family; he had taken to avoiding Father as much as possible, just in case Father decided Draco had become too strange and told him to leave, and so, when they were around each other, they were distant enough that it was more like talking to Mr Greengrass, or Mr Parkinson than it was like talking to Father.

Hydrus had, until about a month ago, been firmly on Draco’s side whenever he said something without thinking at dinner parties (at home, they were still as antagonistic as ever). After Nadia’s birthday, at the beginning of July, however, Hydrus had changed his mind, and apparently decided that Draco was no longer worth defending. Draco had been more surprised and hurt by the loss of his brother’s public support than he probably should have been.

He should have seen it coming – it was the Slytherin thing to do – but for some reason, he’d expected Hydrus to take his side, even if it was the losing one. Draco had been even more startled to realise he thought that way because that was what he would have done. The others had followed Hydrus’ lead in the matter – Pansy was the friend he missed the most -  and as a result, he was now spending the majority of their gatherings with Theodore and Catherine, and occasionally Vivienne (who seemed caught in the middle of an ongoing feud between her sisters). Draco hoped that his and Theodore’s tentative camaraderie lasted until Hogwarts; he’d be very lonely in Slytherin otherwise.

Then there was Mother. He still felt awful for making her cry on the night of his birthday dinner. He’d tried to fix it. Honestly, he had. He’d tried to copy Hydrus, and his father, but he found himself disagreeing with them – not that he ever voiced it, of course – and the scar on his palm was too strong of a reminder. So he found himself stepping and speaking carefully around Mother too. He was still closer to her than Father or Hydrus – they still hugged, and she still told him stories – but he was being careful not to upset her. She wasn’t a bad mother - the fault was all his – and he didn’t want to give her any evidence that made her think so.

Yes, things had been very awkward whenever Draco was involved.

“Thanks for the... you know, present,” Potter said finally, gesturing to the dictionary that lay on a small pile of gleaming silver wrapping paper.

“I told you I’d buy you one,” Draco said, loftily. He’d had no idea how to get it to Potter, but then he’d mentioned it in passing to Severus, who’d got an odd look on his face and said something about testing a truce. Draco hadn’t entirely believed him until they’d found themselves on a muggle street, and Potter and Black had quite literally appeared out of nowhere. They’d all stared at each other, and then Black had – very awkwardly – invited them inside. “Fun as it is to try to interpret your uhs and erms, it’s rather tiresome.”

“If you think I’m bad, you should hear Moony after-” Potter trailed off, looking wary.

“After..?” Draco prompted.

“The full moon,” Potter said, with an odd expression. His eyes were fixed on Draco rather intently. “He can hardly talk.” Draco arched an eyebrow.

“If Lupin’s able to form semi-coherent sounds after a night of no sleep, and two transformations, Potter, then I haven’t even the faintest clue what your excuse is.” Potter opened his mouth and seemed – unsurprisingly – lost for words. “Merlin, Potter, as if I needed any more evidence to support my point...”

Potter burst out laughing, and Draco felt a smile – no, it felt different; a... grin? – spread across his face in response.

Merlin, I have changed, he thought. Malfoys don’t grin! As if on cue, the adults looked over, and Draco hastily smoothed his expression. Black looked curious, Lupin looked even more confused than he had before, and Severus... Severus looked a little sad.


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