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Innocent by MarauderLover7
Chapter 69 : The Return
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7


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Sirius was feeling rather demoralised by the time he returned to Number Twelve - courtesy of Kreacher - on the Thursday night. It wasn't late, but he felt exhausted, and had hoped to be able to slink past Harry and go to bed, but luck truly was against him; Harry and Dora were seated at the kitchen table, eating what appeared to be chocolate mousse.

“Wotcher,” Dora said, when Sirius appeared. Her eyes fell on the empty space next to him - Kreacher was already heading for the oven - and her face fell. “She wasn't-”

“She was there,” Sirius said heavily. “Just not- she didn't come back. Obviously.” Harry knew enough of what was going on to know who 'she' meant, and the corners of his mouth turned down.

Sirius wondered if he'd done the right thing, by leaving. Marlene wasn't one to be forced to do anything or go anywhere she didn't want to. Like Sirius, she was stubborn about things like that. He also got the impression that her problem wasn't actually with him; rather, it was doubt of her own worth, and guilt, that was prompting this response.

And guilt means she cares, Sirius thought, not sure whether that thought brought him comfort, or made this whole, messy situation worse.

“Did you have any trouble escaping the morgue?” he asked Dora.

“None,” she said, looking smug. “I knocked over a tray of dissection equipment, but otherwise, I was fantastically stealthy.” Sirius mustered a smile; he didn't really feel like smiling, but he appreciated her help, and wanted to show it. “That was just after lunch time, and then I went to training, and then I had a few hours until I need to meet up with Mad-Eye, and I knew Harry was probably home alone - aside from Kreacher, of course - so I thought I'd drop by and make sure he was all right.” Sirius also heard what she hadn't said; Dora probably, if everything was normal, would have spent the afternoon with Remus, but that was not currently an option.

“We finished my poster on the Egyptians,” Harry said, speaking for the first time. “She knew a glue charm-”

“I bought you a glue stick,” Sirius said, amused. “What happened to-”

“I...” Harry shifted sheepishly. “Erm, well, the thing is, that-”

“That?” Sirius prompted.

“Ilostit,” Harry said in a rush. “It's in my room. I think. Possibly. Or the library-” Sirius chuckled, unable to help himself, and then stepped around the table to ruffle Harry's hair. Then, rather abruptly, his mood dropped and he pulled Harry into a hug. Harry, for his part, said nothing, but he squeezed Sirius a little more tightly than he needed to, and didn't pull away; he left that up to Sirius. Sirius caught a whiff of sadness from Dora, but when he glanced over, she was giving them their privacy, and was focused solely on her pudding.

Sirius declined Kreacher's offer of mousse, but he did accept a slice of fresh bread, which was still warm from the oven. He, Harry and Dora chatted, about nothing in particular, but they were all careful to avoid mentioning Remus and Marlene. Dora left about half an hour after Sirius' return, saying she had to get to Mad-Eye's by eight, and be there early enough to deal with whatever obstacle he'd set up. Sirius suggested she use the Floo and try to scare him, and Dora seized the idea with enthusiasm, and even changed her features to look as sinister as possible. Sirius thought that was tempting fate, but she refused to be dissuaded and vanishing with a cheery grin.

“Padfoot,” Harry said, after the flames had died down.

“Hmmm?”

“Can you, I mean, can Padfoot sleep on my bed tonight?” Sirius' head snapped up.

“Bad dreams again, kiddo?” he asked. Harry had been silent the last few nights, as was thankfully inevitable; his dreams were growing further apart, and also weaker as the time since the trial lengthened. Harry shrugged, and Sirius couldn't help but feel relieved (and then guilty that he felt that way, because nightmares weren't a good thing). For all that he'd wished he could sneak past Harry when he first arrived home, he now realised that the idea of being alone didn't appeal to him all that much either. He'd be grateful for company, even if said company was going to be asleep the entire time.

Sirius ruffled Harry’s hair again, and then clapped him on the shoulder.

“Race you,” Sirius said, the words twisting strangely as he curled into Padfoot. Harry smiled and muttered something, so quietly that even Padfoot's sensitive ears couldn't hear it. Then, as Padfoot started toward the kitchen stairs, Harry stood up and vanished with a pop.

Padfoot growled good naturedly - the doggy approximation of 'cheat' - and tore up the stairs, his thoughts about Marlene gone for the time being.

*                          *                          *

Padfoot walked Harry to school as Padfoot the next morning. His ears and tail drooped when they passed Number Thirteen, Harry noticed, but they perked up again when he spied a pair of fat pigeons and dashed at them, barking excitedly. The pigeons took off immediately and Padfoot snapped at their tail feathers half-heartedly, not seeming all that bothered that they’d managed to get away.

Then he trotted back to Harry for a scratch behind the ears and to get a look at Harry’s watch. He made a soft snuffling sound and nudged Harry along. Harry walked a little faster, watching his godfather carefully from behind. He thought he seemed happy enough but it was often hard to tell with Padfoot, particularly when he was a dog. Harry just hoped he wasn’t going to go home and mope.

“Have you heard from Moony yet?” Harry asked. Padfoot snorted, looking disapproving, and then shook his big head. He made a rumbling noise in the back of his throat that sounded a bit like ‘git’, and Harry grinned; if or when he managed his transformation, he wanted to learn to make his wolf noises sound like words. It would be a useful skill to have, he thought. “D’you reckon he’s all right?”

Padfoot hesitated for the briefest moment, and then rolled his shoulders; it was the closest thing to a shrug he could manage. He didn’t seem too worried though, so Harry doubted Moony could be in any serious trouble.

It’d still be nice to have him home, though, Harry thought. Full moon’s tonight, so he should be back today at some point. Hopefully. He glanced at Padfoot, and got a doggy grin in return, which comforted him quite a bit. Harry managed to smile back, and reached out to tug on the tip of Padfoot’s tail.

The last few blocks of the walk to school were spent at a run; well, Harry ran, and Padfoot loped after him – he was perfectly capable of catching up to Harry, particularly when Harry had his rucksack on, if he’d been that way inclined. Instead, he nipped at his shoelaces and shorts when Harry slowed down too much.

Harry was sweaty and out of breath by the time they reached the school gates. Harry glanced at the teacher on morning duty and shook his head at Padfoot apologetically; some teachers were happy to let Padfoot into the school, and others were ridiculously strict about keeping him outside the gates. This one, a year four teacher that didn’t even like Blaise, fell into the second category.

“See you after school?” Harry said. Padfoot barked and nodded, and then came forward to lick Harry’s face and receive a pat. Then Padfoot bared his teeth in a grin again, and set off down the street.

“Harry!” Hermione leaped up from the bench she’d been sitting on, and hurried over, her books tucked securely under her arm. She had Matilda – their class novel – and The Witches, which was obviously a novel of her own choice. “Is everything all right?”

“Fine,” Harry said, bewildered. Hermione looked a little suspicious, and... hopeful?

“You don’t look sick to me,” she mused, looking him over. “And Mrs Hastings at the front office told Blaise that no one called to say why you were absent yesterday-”

“Dad must have forgotten,” Harry said, shrugging.

“So you were sick?” she asked.

“Er... yeah,” Harry said. “Nothing horrible, but I wasn’t well enough to come in to school, so-”

“It wasn’t your birthday, was it?” Hermione asked, rather randomly. Harry blinked. “When do you turn eleven?”

“No – my birthday’s in July. Not until next yea-”

Hermione looked disappointed, and then shook her head. “Silly,” Harry heard her mutter.

“Sorry, what?” Harry asked, still struggling to keep up with the odd turn in the conversation.

“Nothing,” she said at once, looking evasive, and then under her breath, “Stupid! Stupid, stupid-” Her eyes flicked over to Harry, widened – as if she’d just remembered that he was still there – and then she adjusted her grip on her books. “I’ll see you in the classroom,” she said, looking a little panicked. “I’ve got to- The bathroom, you know?” Harry stared at the back of her bushy head as she ducked around the side of the building.

Completely confused, Harry continued onto the classroom alone. Mrs Phelps asked him if he was feeling better, and Ruth made a rather obvious show of staying as far away from him as possible; obviously, she thought he was contagious. Harry couldn’t wait until next term, when they’d be able to move desks and he wouldn’t have to sit opposite her.

Blaise – who was always at school early – came and perched on the edge of Harry’s desk.

“How are you feeling, kid?” he asked warmly.

“Better,” Harry said. “Thanks.” Blaise nodded waved at Sacha, who’d just walked in with Ryan. The pair of them were arguing about football rather loudly. Blaise rolled his eyes. “Hey,” Harry said, “is Hermione...er... okay?”

“Is she ever?” Blaise asked, rather loftily. Harry folded his arms. “Get a sense of humour, Evans,” Blaise said, rolling his eyes again.

“I have a-” Blaise patted him on the head, and grinned.

“She’s fine, kid. She seemed more interested than the rest of us about where you were yesterday – she made me go down to the front office to find out if anyone had called in to say where you were, can you believe it!?”

“You weren’t worried?” Harry asked, smirking. Blaise’s expression was a little too unconcerned for it to be believable.

“No,” he said. Harry arched an eyebrow. “Well, a bit. Maybe. But not as much as Granger.” Blaise stuck his nose in the air. “Frankly, if you’ve got snot oozing out of every pore, and a killer headache, I’d rather not know about it.”

“Charming,” Hermione said, flopping down into her chair. 

“Ew,” Harry agreed.

“Can’t handle a bit of snot, Granger?” Blaise asked.

“I can,” she sniffed. “I grew up in my parents’ practice, and I’ll have you know I’ve seen a lot worse than snot. I just don’t think mucous is a very nice conversational topic first thing in the morning, and I’m sure Harry doesn’t want to be reminded what an awful day he had yesterday, while he was sick.” She gave Harry a rather sharp look, and he gave her an odd one in return, not sure what he’d done – other than miss a day of school – to bring her irritation crashing down on him.

Blaise was silent for a moment and then asked, “So what have you seen that’s worse?”

“Honestly!” Hermione huffed, pulling out her book. Harry kicked Blaise’s foot, and Blaise pulled a face at her. Harry kicked him again. Hermione noticed; her eyes peered over the top of The Witches and Blaise immediately stopped, seeming embarrassed that he’d been caught; his cheeks darkened and he took immediate interest in Harry’s pencilcase and how functional the zipper was. Hermione watched them both for a moment, and apparently decided neither was worth her time that morning; she returned to her book a few moments later.

“Blaise, back to your own desk, please,” Mrs Phelps said. “And you three-” Leanne, Colin and Jack looked over from the rucksack hooks. “-hurry up, please, so we can get started.” Blaise slid off Harry’s desk and slinked back to his own, still looking sheepish.

“Have I done something?” Harry asked, nudging Hermione. She looked up, her expression softening a bit.

“No,” she sighed. “I just- I’d thought- or hoped, maybe, that-” She frowned at him, and then her shoulders slumped. “It doesn’t matter, really.”

“Harry?”

“What doesn’t matter?” Harry pressed. Hermione’s frown deepened.

Evans.

 “Harry,” Hermione said, elbowing him.

“Here,” Harry sighed, glancing at Hermione. “Sorry.”

Mrs Phelps stared at him for a moment and then said, “Hermione?”

“Here,” Hermione said at once.

“It’s a bit pointless, isn’t it?” Blaise whispered, leaning across the gap between their tables. “I mean, she can see you – she was looking right at you – so I don’t know why she couldn’t just tick you off... it’s just impractical, really-”

Harry shrugged, and Mrs Phelps, apparently noticing that two of her students weren’t paying attention, snapped her fingers. Both boys glanced at her.

“Blaise,” she said sternly. “I’m aware that Harry was away yesterday, and that the pair of you obviously have a lot of catching up to do, but kindly let it wait until recess. I don’t like it when other people talk over the top of me.”

“Yes, Mrs Phelps,” Blaise said at once. He adjusted himself in his seat and then gave her a contrite look. She smiled, and Blaise smiled back, instantly forgiven.

“Sorry,” Harry said. The look she gave him was not quite as fond - she’d been a bit uncertain around him since the pointy purple incident – but she didn’t seem angry.

“Thank you,” she said. “Alice?”

*                           *                            *

Remus hadn't been sure what sort of response to expect from Sirius when he arrived back - relief, probably, because Sirius had sent him half a dozen patronus messages that Remus had left unanswered, or maybe sympathy, for what he was going through right now.

He Flooed into Grimmauld's kitchen in the late morning of the day of the full moon, feeling rotten and achy. Sirius, who was at the kitchen table, nursing a cup of tea - beside which rested a bottle of old Ogden's firewhiskey - glanced up. His expression went from grim to shocked to relieved to furious in less than a second, and it was too much for Remus' throbbing head to deal with.

“Morning,” he croaked, and then nodded at the firewhiskey. “Bit early, isn't it?”

“I haven't opened it,” Sirius said, looking rueful. Remus eyed the seal, and found it was indeed intact.

“Then why's it out?”

“Maybe I like the way it looks,” Sirius said, a hint of snideness creeping into his tone. Remus took a tentative sniff, and winced. Sirius' scent was all over the place, and it hadn't been that way since he'd been suffering through the Dementor's Draught. Misery was there, and irritation and exasperation also featured strongly, though there were also hints of guilt, worry and confusion. None of them were evenly remotely happy scents, unless Remus counted the twisted, defeated sort of affection that pulsed in and out.

“What's happened?” Remus asked, gingerly lowering himself into the seat opposite his best friend. He glanced around, hoping that maybe Kreacher might be nearby and offer him a cup of tea, but Kreacher was nowhere in sight.

“A lot,” Sirius said, glowering at the table.

“Like-?”

“Maybe if you'd been here, instead of running off, you'd know,” Sirius snapped.

“I'm here now,” Remus said. Sirius lifted his glower from the table and fixed it on Remus, who shrank back, not liking the intensity of the stare. For a moment, he thought that Sirius might stay silent, just to spite him, but then Sirius' jaw set.

“Fine,” he said. “Fine. You want to know what happened?” Remus nodded, hoping it wasn't a trick question. “I got arrested, found out Marlene would rather spend the rest of her life in prison than let me help her-” Sirius looked up, his eyes glimmering rather cruelly. “Oh, and Dora died.” Remus choked on the question he'd been about to ask, and the air went rushing out of his lungs. For a moment he couldn't breathe, and he genuinely thought his heart might have stopped. Then, Sirius added, “Well, not really – she just pretended to, to help me get myself into prison...” Remus slumped, his heart now pounding so hard against his ribcage that he was in danger of internal bruising. “Are you all right?” Sirius asked innocently.

“Fine,” Remus choked. “Just- I think I need the full story.”

Sirius obliged, but he seemed to be lacking his usual enthusiasm; his hand gestures were limited, and his voice was flat. And, more than once, his eyes drifted out of focus and he lost his part in the story, and required prompting to remember where he’d been. It was all right, though; while it was an engaging series of events and Remus was a captive audience, he wasn’t really up to gasping, or commenting or laughing in the right places.

“Wow,” he said, when Sirius finished with his story.

“It’s been a busy few days,” Sirius agreed, looking tired.

“Mmm.” Remus hesitated; Marlene was always a touchy subject with Sirius, and not one that Remus felt comfortable delving into unless Sirius brought it up first, but he thought that this particular time might be the exception. “I’m sorry about Marlene, Padfoot. It must be disappointing to have gone to all that trouble and been-”

“Rejected?” Sirius suggested, rather bitterly. Remus nodded, and got a sigh and a shrug in return. “At least she acknowledged me. I was dismissed, sure, but I know where I stand, which is more than some people get.” His eyes flicked up to meet Remus’ and the stare was rather sharp. Thinking he was looking for sympathy, Remus gave him a sad smile.

“It is,” he agreed. “Better to know, than to be left wondering-”

“Like Dora?” Sirius asked, rather cuttingly. Remus’ eyes dropped to his hands. “She finally admitted she fancies you, and you ran, you complete git!” Sirius’ voice was growing increasingly louder, and Remus was still unable to lift his eyes to meet Sirius’ glare. “You selfish, self-pitying, cowardly-”

“I know how it must look,” Remus said, “but-”

“I’ll tell you how it looks, you enormous prat,” Sirius said, sounding tired again. “It looks bad! It-”

“I did it for her,” Remus said, looking up in time to see Sirius blink.

“You ran for her?” Sirius repeated flatly. “Moony, when a girl says she fancies you, you run toward her, not in the opposite direction, screaming-”

“She fancies me, Padfoot,” Remus snapped.

“Do you want sympathy or something?” Sirius asked, rolling his eyes. “Poor Moony, the woman you fancy fancies you back-

“That’s the problem!” Remus said.

“That she fancies-”

“That I fancy her!”

“I told you so,” Sirius said at once.

“You’re not helping, you prat!” Remus said.

Sorry,” Sirius said, in a rather patronising voice, and then continued, sounding genuinely confused. “Why’s that a problem? I can’t see-”

“Because I like her!” Remus said. “And she, for whatever reason, likes me back, which means that it – if ‘it’ even happened – wouldn’t just be a- we’d be dating, Sirius!”

“Dating!” Sirius gasped. “I feel so sorry for you. “Really, I do. I’m practically sobbing here, because my empathy’s just so overwhelm- Oi!” Remus had pulled his shoe off and thrown it at Sirius, who managed to avoid a hit to the face; the worn trainer bounced off his shoulder instead. “That was uncalled for!”

“You’re the one that started throwing accusations around,” Remus snapped. “If you want to hear my justifications, then the least you could do is stop interrupting!”

“Sorry,” Sirius muttered. “So dating’s a problem?”

Yes, dating’s a problem.”

“-because in school-”

“I never dated anyone in school,” Remus said, feeling his cheeks heat up. “It was just fooling- Look, I like Dora! And I can see us- if we were to- if we were to date... I can’t see it being a short term thing.” Remus drummed his fingers on his knees, agitated. “And I’m all wrong for her-”

“You-”

“I’m old,” Remus said, “compared to her, at least, and I’m poor, and then there’s the fact that, you know, I’m a monster-

“Once a month-”

“That’s too long! And even if none of that proved to be an issue-” But it was – a huge issue. “-and we did date, and things went well, and we got married, we’d never be able to have children because there’d be a chance that they’d be like- like- I couldn’t live with- not an innocent child-”

“You’ve given this way too much thought,” Sirius observed. “I mean, kids? That’s years off, at least, and that’s if she even wants them-”

“She might not now, but she might change her mind,” Remus said. “She’s limited with me. She should be with someone young and whole, who can take care of her, and-”

“But she fancies you-”

“She thinks she does,” Remus said, sadly. “And she probably will, for a while. Which is why it has to be this way. I’ll seem like a git, certainly, but better that she thinks that and moves on, than find out I fancy her back...” He shrugged. “I’m not right for her, and it’s not fair for her to waste time getting caught up on what could have been if I was younger, or she was older, or if stupid Greyback hadn’t-”

“This is wrong,” Sirius said.

“I beg your-”

“You. Having this conversation with me. You should be talking this out with her, giving her these reasons.”

“I just said-”

“I know what you said,” Sirius sighed. “And I – as much as it annoys me to say it – can see where you’re coming from, even if I personally strongly disagree with it, and think you’re just being a git. I also think she needs to hear this. It’s nice that you’re trying to- to protect her, or whatever, but you’re taking her choice away altogether-”

“It’s for the best; Dora can be impetuous,” Remus said.

“She can also be mature,” Sirius countered. Remus couldn’t deny that, when he himself had told her at seventeen that she acted far older than she was. “And this affects her, regardless of what happens. She deserves to understand.”

Remus’ mouth turned down, and Sirius gave him a grim smile, before he conjured two tumblers. He opened the firewhiskey with a tap of his wand and poured them both a drink.

“To women,” Sirius said.

“To women,” Remus sighed, clinking their glasses together.

“So where were you hiding?” Sirius asked, a few moments later.

“Matt’s,” Remus replied. “He’s good company in normal circumstances, but he’s even better company at times like this; he doesn’t ask questions if I don’t want to answer them.” Remus gave Sirius a pointed look, but there was no real force behind it. Sirius shrugged and mustered a weak grin, before he reached for the firewhiskey again. Remus held his glass out to be refilled.

CRACK!

Sirius twitched and almost dropped the bottle, while Remus’ hands flew up to cradle his head, in an attempt – far too late – to protect his ears from the noise. The pair of them looked over at Kreacher – Remus with a groan, Sirius with a slightly exasperated, slightly sheepish expression.

Kreacher, for his part, took one look at the bottle of firewhiskey and promptly wrested it from Sirius’ grip.

“Hey!” Sirius said, as Kreacher Vanished it back to wherever it had come from.

“Disgraceful behaviour,” Kreacher croaked, sending the sugar pot floating over to the table. “Drinking at this hour... What sort of example Master Sirius hopes to set for Master Harry, Kreacher doesn’t know, but-”

“Harry’s at school,” Sirius said, but he looked guilty anyway.

“And isn’t that lucky,” Kreacher remarked. He filled two teacups and set those down in front of them instead, while the tumblers floated over to the sink to be washed. “Shameful behaviour.” He didn’t say anything about what Sirius’ mother would have said, but Remus hadn’t heard him mention her at all of late. Or it could have been that Kreacher knew there was no moral high-ground to take by mentioning that, because Sirius’ father had been quite fond of firewhiskey at all hours. “Kreacher expected better, especially from Master Moony... he’s supposed to have more sense, oh yes.”

“It’s a once off,” Sirius mumbled.

“It certainly is,” Kreacher said, crossing his bony arms. The Black family ring glinted on his finger. He’d stopped making obvious gestures to remind them it was there, but he still looked proud to be wearing it, Remus thought. Kreacher and Sirius glared at each other for a few seconds, and then Sirius dropped his gaze.

“Let us mope in peace,” Sirius grumbled. Kreacher snorted and padded across the floor to start cooking lunch. Sirius rolled his eyes at the old elf’s back, but when Remus caught his eye, Sirius smiled and shrugged.

*                           *                            *

Marlene sat in her cell, staring blankly at her dry sandwich. Her mind was a thousand miles away, in another world; the Wizarding world.

She hadn’t slept well the night before; memories of Sirius and the Order and even of the Auror Program had been bouncing around in her head, and try as she might, she hadn’t been able to shut them out. Those memories had stayed with her that morning, through breakfast and being questioned by the guards and police – she was a suspected accomplice in ‘Ebony’s’ disappearance last night, since she was the last one ‘Ebony’ had been seen with last – and showed no signs of letting up.

She missed them all. She missed Dorcas’ maternal nature, and she missed Benjy’s sincerity. She missed Caradoc’s little life lessons, and she missed Gideon and Fabian’s humour. She missed Lily’s kindness, and James’ charisma, and, and she missed Alice’s gentle smile and Frank’s ever-eager explanations. She missed her brothers and her parents, for more reasons than she could list.

She missed those that were still alive, too: she missed Sturgis’ stubbornness, and Amelia’s practicality, and Emmeline’s conviction, and Mundungus’ crude humour and Remus’ dry wit and Mad-Eye’s paranoia and Dumbledore’s eccentricity and- well, everything.

And Sirius. Whether it was as a friend, or as whatever it was they’d been during the war, she didn’t know, but she missed him – more than she wanted to admit, and far more than she had any right to, given everything that had gone on between them in the past two years.

It was Sirius that had driven her here in the first place; she’d assumed that he’d hate her for almost killing him – which was not, she didn’t think, an unfair assumption – and had done what she could to ensure he made it through his trial, before disappearing. Out of sight, out of mind. Only that hadn’t worked so well.

Sirius had spent the time she’d been in prison, trying to find her, and bring her back. Marlene shook her head, giving the sandwich on her plate a despairing look.

Only him, she thought sadly, and knew it was true; neither she, Lupin or Dumbledore had, after all, made any effort to visit him after his alleged betrayal. They’d been content with the knowledge that he was being punished for his crimes and had left him to it. Sirius had never really been one to let things be.

The fact that he’d forgiven her and wanted her to leave with him hadn’t been easy to hear. She didn’t deserve that chance... except, now that she’d been offered it, it was hard to get out of her head. She hadn’t been lying when she’d told him she liked the simplicity of prison, but ‘happy’ had been an exaggeration. Prison had been good for her, but she missed her magic, missed her world and the few people in it, and she missed doing things.

She’d read a number of books on the human brain since arriving – in the hopes of finding a muggle cure for Alice and Frank – but she was making slow progress; she’d had to read so much to even understand some of the more basic books on the subject. And, she only had two hours of potential reading time each day; the majority of her time was spent at meals, or performing tasks around the prison.

Amelia would kill me if she knew I’d gone back to cleaning, Marlene thought, and then sniffed and glanced at the roof to stop her tears. She’d say I was wasting my time... and I am. I’m not helping anyone, not atoning for anything... I’m just staying out of the way, and Sirius doesn’t want me to do even that.

So what do-

“Star,” Kathleen said. “They’re letting us out.”

Marlene dropped her sandwich onto her paper plate and look up. Their cell door – along with the others – had slid open, and the women were filing out into the corridor. The clock on the wall outside said it was just after two, which meant time outside, though Marlene suspected she and the rest of the inmates would be under very close watch.

Still, she thought, I could use the fresh air. She slid off her bunk and took her sandwich with her as she joined the crowd headed for the exit.

It was cold outside, but not unbearable; Marlene wondered what would happen to their outside time when it started to snow. Marlene found herself a little patch of dying grass to sit on, right beside the fence that wrapped around the entire area. A policeman hovered not five feet away, his eyes undoubtedly on her, through his sunglasses.

Marlene pulled her sandwich apart and threw it through the holes in the fence, and little birds came to peck at the pieces. They waited expectantly, even after the bread was done, but when they realised Marlene didn’t have any more hidden in her pockets, the birds flew away.

What am I supposed to do? Marlene wondered, watching the guards watch her. Staying seemed like a silly idea now that she knew that the person she was hiding from didn’t want her to hide, but she wasn’t going to leave just because Sirius thought she should.

And Gawain, a voice added. He obviously thinks so too.

Yes, well I’m sick of doing what other people think I should or shouldn’t, she snapped. That was what had got her into trouble in the first place. She’d gone after Sirius because that was what she thought Lily and James would have wanted, and she’d done the opposite of everything Sirius had said since then, because he was Bad and therefore, the things he disagreed with were Good.

It was possibly the stupidest thing she’d ever done, basing her moralities on another person’s behaviour, and her time in prison had been good for her in that regard; she’d learned to think again. And I’m not doing anything that I don’t want to, from now on.

But what do I want?

*                    *                      *

“Congratulations,” Robards said, when Sirius went into work the next morning. Sirius had thankfully managed to work off most of his misery at his failure yesterday; his talk with Remus had helped, and then he and Harry had stopped at the park on the way home and had a two-hour-long game of fetch, and he’d spent the rest of the night chasing Moony around the forest. He was too exhausted to feel sorry for himself. So Sirius didn’t snap, as he might have, had the congratulations been directed at him yesterday.

“For...?” he asked. Robards smiled patiently and held up a copy of the muggle newspaper. HUNT-ING FOR STAR, was the headline. The fact that Sirius’ alias had made it into the paper was no great surprise, but the fact that Marlene’s was there too, was confusing. Sirius tore the paper out of Robards’ hand to read it.

“Ebony Hunt,” Robards said. “Clever. Is she at home?” Sirius let out a moan of despair, and then snarled as yesterday’s bad mood came bouncing back.

“I have no idea,” he said, looking up. ‘She didn’t- I left on my own. She chose to stay!”

“She what?” Robards asked sharply. “Then- Then why does the paper say that both of you escaped?!”

“Different times,” Sirius muttered, scanning the article. “She left the night after I did- but- she-” He looked up at Robards, who looked angry and confused. “You know what?” he muttered. “You’re going next time, because apparently, the fact that I know where to find her is too much for her to deal with!” A group of trainees walked past and Sirius, well aware of his red face and heaving chest, flopped down into his chair. The trainees muttered amongst themselves and Sirius glowered at them as they left. He took a deep breath. “I’ll go down there now and have a look,” he sighed. “If she used magic to get out-”

“Without a wand?” Robards said, tapping his desk drawer.

“Accidental?” Sirius asked. “That’s how I managed Azkaban.”

“At your age?” Robards asked. Sirius shrugged. “The desperation you’d need to be able to pull off something like-”

“Obviously escaping me’s a pretty high incentive,” Sirius said bitterly.

“Oh, obviously,” a voice said from behind him. Sirius yelped and spun around so hard that he fell off his seat. Robards was already on his feet, hurrying over. Marlene had her arms folded, was still blond, was still wearing her prison clothes – which, worryingly enough, had blood on them - and smelled shocked and uncomfortable, but was obviously determined not to show it. Robards pulled her into a tight hug, which Marlene awkwardly returned.

“How?” Sirius asked weakly, not even attempting to stand. Marlene looked down at him, seeming troubled.

“The Knight Bus,” she said. “I hailed it through the fence. When it arrived, the fence jumped out of the way – rather clumsily, I might add-” She lifted the side of her shirt to show them a criss-crossed bruise and a rather sore looking scratch just above her hip. “-and I was able to walk right on.” The muggles wouldn’t have noticed anything, Sirius knew, because the Bus hid all of its passengers, once they got within a certain range.

“Clever,” he said. Marlene glanced at him, the barest hint of a frown resting on her face, and then inclined her head, acknowledging it. “And you paid for it with one of those forms, right?” Because the Knight Bus was a form of emergency transport, it wasn’t uncommon for passengers to not have money with them at the time, and so all they had to do was fill out and sign a form with their Gringotts details.

She inclined her head again, turned to Robards and said, “I assumed, given the lengths you went to find me-” Her eyes swept over Sirius, who was still on the floor. “-that you wouldn’t have emptied my vault like I asked you to.”

“A fair assumption,” Robards said, in a very neutral voice. “I’ve also got your wand.” Marlene’s eyes brightened. “And your house key.” Marlene’s lip trembled, but she didn’t cry, as Sirius half-expected.

“Thanks,” she said in a thick voice.

“You can have them back when we’ve discussed some things,” he said. Marlene looked scared, and nervous. “Right now, though, I’ve got to go and tell certain people that certain things have happened.” He got up and swept out, but despite his curt demeanour, Sirius hadn’t missed the glint in his eyes, and the new spring in his step. “Don’t leave the cubicle, please,” he added over his shoulder. Marlene’s eyes flicked over to Sirius and then away again.

“Are you going to stay down there?” she asked, after an awkward pause. Sirius hesitated, and then stood. Marlene didn’t run away, or flinch, which was comforting.

“Do you want me to do something about that?” he asked, pointing at her bloodied shirt.

“No, thank you,” she said, trying to cover the patch with her hands. She must have brushed it, because she winced, and bit down on her lip.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” she said stiffly.

“Yeah, you look it,” he muttered, and she flushed.

“Fine,” she said curtly. She stomped over to his chair and sat down, and then rolled the side of her shirt up. “Fine. Here.” Sirius stared at her, stunned; he’d expected her to argue more, and he certainly hadn’t expected her to give in. Marlene made an impatient noise, rolled her eyes, and let her shirt go.

“No, I’ll- hold that up,” he managed, kneeling down beside her chair. Her heart beat quickened, but her scent was uneasy, yet stubborn, and he thought it could be attributed to that, and nothing else. He pulled out his wand, and she twitched, but didn’t say anything or attempt to move away. “I’m trying to fix you, not hurt you,” he said quietly.

“I know,” she replied, not meeting his eyes; hers were fixed on the inkwell on Robards’ desk. Sirius flicked his wand to clean the cut – which wasn’t deep, but was already showing early signs of infection – and then tapped her skin to heal it. A very faint line remained, but that would vanish with time, he was certain. The bruises were gone altogether and he ctook the stains out of her shirt. She glanced down at her healed side, and then at him. “Thank you,” she managed.

“No problem.” Neither of them moved.

“You are back!” a woman said, startling them both. Marlene’s shot Sirius a wide-eyed look; he simply stood and retreated to the back, as Amelia stepped into the office. “Thank Merlin you’re all right!” Sirius actually thought Amelia might be on the verge of tears, and watched with wry amusement, as she snatched Marlene up into a hug. “You are in so much trouble,” Sirius heard her say, and watched as Marlene’s grip on Amelia tightened. Mad-Eye, who’d followed Amelia in, chuckled, and Scrimgeour, Rattler and Robards who’d also arrived, watched on curiously.

Knowing she wouldn’t want him there, but also convinced that she was in good hands for the time being, Sirius slipped away. No one noticed, he didn’t think, except for Mad-Eye, who gave him a grim look as he left.


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