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The Brave at Heart by marauderfan
Chapter 38 : I. Epilogue: Sixteen years later
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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Thirty four year old Melanie Wilcox sighed as she cleared a space in all the papers on the rickety wooden table. She sat down in one of the wicker chairs, resting her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands. She was on holiday, visiting Nathan and his family in their small stone house in Morocco, but was alone in the house at the moment. Everyone else had elected to go to the beach for their last day there, but Melanie hadn’t felt well that morning and had decided to stay home for the day.

A large pile of rugs occupied most of the main room. Nathan and his friend Habib owned a company that sold flying carpets, and they’d just got a large shipment in from their friend Ali Bashir, who, according to Nathan, was trying to convince the British Ministry of Magic to loosen the embargo on flying carpets. Nathan had said he was sure Ali would start illegally smuggling carpets into Britain before long. But until then, Nathan’s house was a sort of storage for their carpets.

Outside the open window, the day was brilliant and clear, and a few trees swayed in a slight breeze. The wind ruffled several papers on the table, shifting them around a bit. Melanie’s eyes were drawn to a photograph of hers that fluttered out from under a newspaper. She supposed it must have gotten mixed in with her papers last week when she and Mandy had been looking through an old photo album, but was surprised she hadn’t noticed it until now. The picture had been taken close to thirteen years ago; a tall, handsome, dark haired young man was chasing a curly haired young woman through piles of orange leaves. She stopped and when the man caught up to her she hugged him and he twirled her around, laughing.

Those days had been extraordinary, both terrifying and beautiful. Despite the ongoing war, and the constant presence of fear that accompanied it, there was so much to live for. Melanie and Sirius had been together nearly four years, and Melanie had had no doubt they would stay together for the rest of their lives, however long that was. No one else doubted it either – Lily had even asked when they would get married. People seemed to be rushing into marriage in those days, like the idealists James and Lily; in war, they’d said, you had to seize the day because it might be your last – then the Potters had been faced with the unexpected responsibility of raising a baby in the midst of war. Melanie and Sirius held off on even considering marriage; they were happy how they were, and it didn’t make sense when there were bigger things to worry about. So they spent their days working and fighting Death Eaters, and stuck together with people close to them. They were crazy about each other… and then it had all gone wrong.

Melanie pushed the picture out of sight; the memory of it was too much to bear. Less than two weeks after the picture had been taken, Sirius had been sent off to Azkaban for murdering thirteen people and working for Voldemort.

She could still remember the day she’d found out – it had undoubtedly been the worst day of her life. Melanie had woken up in an unfamiliar place, looking around blearily at the bright white walls and ceiling, had eventually noticed other beds, and people walking around in lime-green robes, and realised she was in St. Mungo’s. The last thing she could remember before that was when she was searching for the Death Eater Antonin Dolohov and then felt a sharp pain in her neck. And now she was lying in a bed in St. Mungo’s. She touched her neck; at least it didn’t hurt anymore.

“Melanie, you’re awake!” said a voice. Melanie turned her head slightly to see Althea Branstone, who was a trainee Healer. “You’ve been through quite a lot; you were hit with some dark curses and were unconscious for almost two weeks. Healer Metzger thought you were dead. But don’t worry – you’re fine, that curse has healed up nicely, though there’s a bit of a scar now.”

“Er – okay,” Melanie said, still a bit groggy. She rubbed her eyes while Althea continued to stand over her and fuss over the pillows.

“There’s… something else,” said Althea nervously after a minute. “I really don’t want to have to tell you this, especially not right away, but you need to know. While you were unconscious, a lot happened. You-Know-Who is gone.”

“He’s gone?” asked Melanie, sitting up. “Gone as in dead?”

“Yes,” said Althea.

This was thrilling news. So why was Althea not smiling? “What happened?” Melanie asked, suddenly overwhelmed with dread. There must have been a terrible cost to Voldemort’s downfall.

Althea took a deep breath. “A week ago, on Halloween, You-Know-Who… he went after James and Lily Potter, and he killed them.” Melanie gasped, but Althea kept speaking. “He tried to kill their son, too, but Harry survived the Killing Curse. And You-Know-Who disappeared.”

Melanie could only stare at her. James and Lily gone? It seemed impossible. James and Lily had faced Voldemort three times and lived. They were two of the most wonderful people Melanie knew – why did they have to die? And Sirius must be beside himself with grief, because James was like a brother to him. Melanie wished she could have been there for Sirius when it had happened, like he had been there for her after Charlotte’s death. But Melanie had been unconscious for two weeks, and Sirius had been alone.

“That’s not all,” said Althea. She took Melanie’s hand in her own. “I’m so sorry… The next day, Sirius was taken to Azkaban for killing Peter Pettigrew and twelve Muggles. Everyone says he was working for You-Know-Who.”

“Sirius?” asked Melanie. “No, he would never have… You’re wrong. Where is he?” She turned her head, half expecting to see him walking into the room. Then she winced – that curse Dolohov had done to her neck was still not entirely healed.

“He’s in Azkaban,” said Althea softly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to be the bringer of bad news just after you’d woken up, but you had to know.”

“No!” Melanie couldn’t understand how it had happened; that wasn’t the Sirius she knew and loved. Althea had to be wrong. She had to be. The alternative was just too horrible to consider – Lily and James were dead, and Sirius was worse than dead to her. So while the wizarding world outside was still celebrating Voldemort’s defeat, Melanie was practically destroying St. Mungo’s in anger and grief. She pushed over the little table by her bed, threw her pillow onto the floor, and then flopped back down on her bed, sobbing.

Althea had tried her best to comfort her, but there wasn’t much she could do, and she had to help other injured patients. She had sent an owl to Mandy, who left work immediately and Apparated into the hospital to calm Melanie down from her hysteria. Mandy had stayed there almost all day, hugging Melanie and trying to help her. Mandy knew there was little she could do, but she did know that what Melanie needed most was for someone to be there for her after her world had just been turned upside down.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, the day after Melanie was released from St. Mungo’s, some Aurors at the Ministry of Magic had been convinced that she’d had something to do with Sirius switching sides. Melanie had packed her few belongings and fled before the Aurors found her again, interrogated her, and then finally decided she’d had nothing to do with it. She’d spent the following two months travelling solo across Europe in an attempt to make some sense of her life.

Afterwards, she had returned to the house that until recently she had shared with Sirius, and began to get rid of his possessions, sifting through their past. But, Melanie thought as she browsed through a photo album, there was no way anything made sense.

The album was full of pictures of herself and Sirius – dancing, standing in front of Stonehenge, sitting together on a sofa wearing Father Christmas hats and tinsel in their hair, and balancing ornaments from the tree on their faces. In all the pictures, both of them looked radiantly happy, and their smiles were infectious. At the bottom of the open page, under the caption James and Lily’s wedding, June 1979, two pictures in particular caught Melanie’s eye. On the left was a photo Melanie had taken of Lily and James, arm in arm, with Sirius as their best man standing beside them. The one next to it was also from the wedding, and if it hadn’t been labelled, one might have guessed it was Melanie and Sirius’s wedding instead. The two of them were dancing slowly, but far enough apart to be gazing into each other’s eyes, looking completely at peace and in love. The sight of it only made Melanie start crying again. Everything had been so perfect then. How could Sirius have betrayed everyone he loved?

***

Melanie shook her head to try and forget that unwelcome memory that had just propelled itself into her mind. However, she had merely slid the old photo of them in the leaves underneath the copy of the Daily Prophet she had brought with her last Thursday, which pictured a man with long, matted black hair and a gaunt face staring back at her. He had just escaped from Azkaban a year ago, and the Ministry still had not caught him. Sirius looked so different from the picture of when he was younger that he was almost unrecognisable.

Having no wish to see this picture either, she folded the newspaper rapidly and threw it onto the chair beside her. The top papers on the pile now were a couple of letters: one from her parents, with whom she’d reconnected after the war, and one she’d received earlier that day from Althea and Hector, telling her how excited they were that their daughter Eleanor would be starting at Hogwarts this coming September.

Melanie smiled as she folded the letters again, then stood up and prepared a glass of iced pumpkin juice for herself and went outside to sit on the front steps, letting the view of the city clear her mind. After a moment, she noticed a large black dog near the street. It was just wandering around, but when it saw her, it looked at her for a long time, then bounded up to her and started licking her face. Melanie laughed and stroked it behind the ears, turning her face slightly away from the dog’s tongue. The poor stray, it had probably been alone in the street for a while; it was thin, and had sand and leaves and little bits of wood in its matted fur. As Melanie glanced at the dog’s face again, she felt that it looked incredibly like Padfoot, Sirius Black’s Animagus form. It even had the same grey eyes she remembered so well. But it couldn’t possibly be him – why would he be here, and what business could he have visiting her now? She was simply not thinking clearly after discovering that old picture.

She stood up, and the dog lay down on the step, still watching her. “I’m going to get some food for you,” Melanie told the dog. “I’ll be right back.” She walked inside, still holding her glass of pumpkin juice, but when she had taken three steps into the house, she heard a voice say her name. She spun back around to find not a dog but Sirius Black himself, just as he had looked in the Daily Prophet photo.

Melanie screamed and pulled out her wand, dropping the glass of pumpkin juice and hearing it shatter on the floor. She backed up, but hit the wall, and had no idea what to do. In her doorway was the man she had been in love with thirteen years ago, who had gone to prison and escaped; she didn’t know what to think about him now. Overcome with emotion – grief, fear, even nostalgia – she tried to collect her thoughts.

But Sirius spoke first. “You’re alive,” he said, striding towards her. “They told me you were dead. I thought you died thirteen years ago. You’re alive!”

“As you see,” said Melanie harshly. “And I woke up in St. Mungo’s to find out that you had betrayed Lily and James to Voldemort, and killed Peter and twelve innocent Muggles.”

Sirius looked agonized, but Melanie did not allow it to affect her. “What are you doing in this house?” she demanded. “I work at the Ministry, you know. I’m going to tell them you’re here, and then – then you’re going straight back to Azkaban.”

“No, you can’t,” he pleaded. “You don’t understand.”

“And why can’t I?” she fumed. “You deserve it! You killed Lily and James! You betrayed them – your best friends! You were the Secret-Keeper!” She paused, trying to collect herself and not start crying. It was all coming back now – how she had felt when she’d first been told of Sirius’s treachery thirteen years ago.

“It wasn’t like that!” Sirius exclaimed. “Please, just listen!”

“How could you?” said Melanie softly, her voice shaking. “I have no reason to believe anything you tell me. I can’t believe I ever –” she broke off and let out a tortured sob. “I thought I knew you. The Sirius I knew would never have done that. I trusted you, Sirius, I…”

She was still pointing her wand at Sirius, but it was as unsteady as her voice. She moved sideways against the door, away from him, but not taking her eyes off him. Suddenly, at the worst possible time, she tripped on the corner of Nathan’s pile of rugs and fell to the floor, her wand rolling just out of reach amid the shattered glass on the floor. Scrambling in fear to get her wand back, she saw Sirius approach and reach for it, so she kicked him in the shins as a last resort. He swore. “I was just trying to help.”

“I can get it myself,” she said coldly, her voice still wavering, and moved over to pick it up.

Sirius offered a hand to Melanie, but she refused it and stood up by herself. As soon as she had done so, however, her shaking knees gave way and she collapsed back against the wall. Sirius reached out and grasped her shoulders to steady her. She attempted unsuccessfully to push him away, and then with no way to get out of his reach, leaned limply against the door, looking anywhere except at Sirius. Her eyes focused on the mess on the floor, and she pointed her wand at the spilled pumpkin juice and glass and cleaned it up.

“Melanie, I didn’t kill Peter or those Muggles,” said Sirius. “Peter is still alive, he faked his own death. And I never wanted anything to happen to James and Lily.”

Melanie said nothing and breathed deeply in an effort to calm down. She finally looked up at Sirius, willing herself not to break down when she saw the anguish reflected in his eyes. She wanted so desperately to be able to trust him again – but she wouldn’t, not yet. “Fine,” she said, stepping aside from the door and out of Sirius’s reach. “What happened, then?”

Sirius sighed and began his story. He had not, in fact, been the Secret-Keeper for the Potters, as Melanie had thought – they had switched to Peter at the last moment. Peter had been the traitor who worked for Voldemort for a year and betrayed the Potters. After the Potters’ death, Sirius had gone after Peter, who faked his own death, killed twelve Muggles, and then changed into his rat Animagus form and disappeared.

Peter had been living with the family of Harry Potter’s best friend for twelve years as their pet rat. And then a month ago, in June, Sirius had met Remus and Harry again; he’d convinced them of his innocence, and they had caught Wormtail and tried to turn him in, but Wormtail transformed and escaped. Sirius had then almost been handed back to the dementors, but Harry and a friend had helped him escape on a hippogriff.

Melanie was stunned. “I can’t believe it was Peter the whole time! I never even considered it, because he’d suggested that the spy was Remus – though of course, after Halloween, I assumed it had been you… But I do remember Peter always saying he was ill, or busy, and we never thought anything of it at the time… How did we not notice?”

Sirius sighed. “I still feel like it was my fault… I told them to use Peter because there would be no chance of Voldemort thinking he was the Secret-Keeper.”

“It’s not your fault, how could you have known? Oh, but Sirius, why didn’t you tell me?” Melanie asked. “If you had told me you switched to Peter as Secret-Keeper, I could have done something, told people you were innocent or something…”

“They’d never have believed you. And anyway, by the time we switched Secret-Keepers, you were unconscious in St. Mungo’s, and the Healers said you weren’t going to make it. One of them told me you had died. Then several days later Prongs and Lily died. I’d lost everything I cared about within the space of a week. I had nothing left to lose, and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I went after Peter right away.”

If she’d been conscious, Melanie knew she could have stopped Sirius from rashly running after Peter without a thought as to the consequences. Why did any of this have to happen?

“We didn’t even tell Dumbledore,” Sirius continued. “Looking back, I can’t believe we were so stupid.”

“Azkaban for thirteen years, and you were innocent,” Melanie said quietly. “I can’t fathom how awful that must have been.”

A shadow passed across Sirius’s face as he looked at her, no doubt dwelling on some horrific memory. Melanie’s eyes filled with tears, but she didn’t look away from him as the tears began to stream down her face.

She walked up to him tentatively, until they were only a few inches apart, and Sirius gently pulled her closer; Melanie threw her arms around his neck and sobbed onto his shoulder. She could feel his arms wrapped tightly around her, one of his hands softly stroking her hair… Her own grip on Sirius was so tight that she suspected she might be suffocating him, but he didn’t seem to mind, and certainly neither of them ever wanted to let go.

How long this lasted she had no idea. Eventually she pulled away, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. Sirius turned around for a brief moment, and when he moved back to face her, his eyes looked a bit watery.

“You smell horrible, you know,” said Melanie finally, a hint of a smile playing on her lips. “Forgot to bring shampoo with you from Azkaban?”

Sirius stared at her blankly and then let out a sharp bark of a laugh. He grinned at her, and she was amazed at the difference his smile made; he looked so much younger, almost like the Sirius she remembered. And then, as if he were unable to stop it, he was laughing again, which only made Melanie start as well – and they continued for an unnecessarily prolonged amount of time until they didn’t even know what they were laughing about anymore, perhaps making up for all the laughing together they couldn’t do for thirteen years.

After they had finally calmed down, Melanie asked, “So how have you been since you escaped with the hippogriff?”

“Well, Buckbeak and I have been travelling around here a lot recently, which has been nice… We spent a lot of time further south too, got to travel around Africa. I’ve written to Harry too – I couldn’t find any owls that looked like they were up for a long flight so I sent him a letter with a huge parrot.”

“A parrot?” Melanie laughed. “Really? And it worked?”

“Yeah.”

“Interesting, I would never have imagined that they’d carry letters too… Well, it’s wonderful that you’re in touch with Harry after so long.” She smiled. “I remember when he was little, when we used to visit Lily and James. Remember when you got Harry that toy broomstick for his first birthday?”

“Oh yeah, I do. He loved that. Speaking of which, his fourteenth birthday is in a week, have you got the ingredients to make a cake or something?” He glanced into the kitchen.

“Erm, sure, I think so. Are you going to send him one through the post?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. “With another parrot?”

“Of course, anything else would be boring after that first bird.”

“This is the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard,” she stated as they walked into the kitchen and Melanie began getting ingredients out of the cabinets. “It’s a long way from here to England for a parrot flying with a cake.”

“How else would I get it there? The one that carried the letter did just fine with the distance. They’re big, they can handle it.”

“Okay…” said Melanie, laughing. She placed a bag of flour on the counter next to the rest of the ingredients. “All right, that should be everything. Do you want me to help you make it?”

“No thanks, I’m going to make it myself.” He grinned.

“Are you sure?” she asked sceptically after a moment’s pause. “I’ve tried your cooking, remember, and it’s… an experience.”

He raised his eyebrows. “You have no faith in me,” he joked.

“I do, just not in your baking skills. But if you’re sure, go ahead.”

Sirius picked up Melanie’s wand from the table and pointed it at a large mixing bowl, into which the ingredients mixed themselves. “So what about you, what have you been doing for the past thirteen years?”

“I’m an Unspeakable in the Department of Mysteries,” Melanie said. “Studying space. That’s about all I’m allowed to tell you.” It was certainly more than her job’s worth to tell anyone about her secret work in the Planet Room, researching magic and space. One of their ongoing projects was in creating antigravity mist, which some of her co-workers had said would be used at a yet unknown big event at Hogwarts during the year.

“You did end up working there, then? That’s great!” said Sirius, pouring the cake batter in a pan. “And with you being at the Ministry, that means you can give the Aurors false information about where I am.” He placed the cake pan in the oven. “I take it the Order of the Phoenix isn’t around anymore?”

“No. I mean, Voldemort is gone – although some say he’ll come back eventually and then the Order will start up again for sure.”

“And you’d join again?”

“Probably. But I’m hoping he doesn’t ever come back. I want it all to be over.”

“Of course,” he said as they walked back to the table. “So what else have you been up to? Is this your house? Why do you live in Morocco, of all places?”

“No, this is Nathan’s house. This is where he came after he left the Death Eaters, when Voldemort was still powerful, and he moved here so Voldemort wouldn’t find him. When Voldemort disappeared, Nathan just stayed here rather than returning to England, because his whole life was here. I’m just visiting with my family.”

“Your family…” he said dully. “You’re married now.” It wasn’t really a question, he just stated it.

“Right,” said Melanie. “I married Luke Wilcox, he was a Ravenclaw in our year at Hogwarts.” It felt odd to discuss her husband with the man she would have married had everything not fallen apart all those years ago…

Sirius sighed. “I remember him,” he said quietly, scowling. He walked by the table in silence, away from her. Melanie could sense him closing off to sulk silently by the window. But she didn’t want him to be angry with her.

“Sirius.”

“What?” he said agitatedly, still evading looking at her.

Melanie walked back into the kitchen and rummaged in the pile of papers on the table. “Look. I still have this,” she said, drawing out the picture of herself and Sirius in the leaves and handed it to him. “I didn’t forget, you know. I tried to, but… part of me still loved you, even though I knew I shouldn’t. I hated that I kept hanging on… Even after what I’d heard you had done, on the worst day of my life, I couldn’t get rid of everything; for the longest time I kept telling myself it wasn’t true.”

He frowned. “Melanie—”

“I know you didn’t do it, Sirius. But I didn’t know that then. I had no idea what to do.”

His tone became harsh. “So you went off and married some random bloke you dated for three months when you were sixteen. I see.” He tossed the photo back on the table.

“Sirius, you can’t blame me for it!” she cried. “You were in Azkaban for life, what was I supposed to do?”

Melanie and Luke had been brought together by grief, after each of them had lost everything. Luke’s wife of one month had been killed by a Death Eater just before Voldemort’s downfall, and he and Melanie had met again shortly after that. They’d relied on each other in an attempt to rebuild their shattered lives; over the years, they had eventually grown to love each other. She knew part of Luke still loved his dead wife Adeline, so Melanie didn’t feel too guilty that she’d never completely gotten over Sirius. But those feelings had been buried in the past by now.

She reached out and took his hand. “If you were in my place and I had gone to Azkaban, you would have done the same, right? You would have eventually moved on?”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

Melanie sighed. She knew he was just saying that because he was bitter, but his words were probably a little bit true – if it had all been reversed, Sirius would have shut himself away for months at least.

With no idea what else to say, Melanie lifted the old photo off the table where Sirius had thrown it down, and watched the younger Sirius and herself laughing as they ran through the autumn leaves, happy and carefree. How could they ever have known then what devastation would occur less than two weeks afterwards? She set it down on the table again and watched Sirius standing by the window.

Eventually, although still with a hint of bitterness, Sirius asked her, “Are you happy?”

As much as she wished she could change some things that happened thirteen years ago, Melanie couldn’t imagine her life without the people in it now. How could she even begin to explain how she felt?

“Yes, I am happy,” said Melanie after a pause. “I mean, I would have preferred it if Voldemort had never existed, obviously… if our friends were still alive, if there had never been a war… but there’s nothing we can do about what happened, so I’ve made the best of what I had, and I’m very happy with what I have now.”

Sirius was silent and started to walk away again. “Sorry,” said Melanie blankly.

He sighed and turned around. “No, I’m sorry. I’m glad you’re happy,” he said, looking defeated. “Really I am.”

Melanie went to stand next to him, at a loss for words. His hand was resting on the worktop and Melanie put her own hand over his, giving it a light squeeze. Sirius met her eyes at last and gave her a small smile.

He looked around the room, as if trying to find something else to discuss; his gaze finally rested on a side table by the sofa where there were numerous framed and slightly dusty pictures. There was one of Nathan and his wife Amira, several of Nathan and Amira’s daughter Leila at different ages, another of Nathan and Melanie building a mud fort when they were little kids, and next to this was a small photo of Melanie and Luke and their two kids. On the left of the photo was six-year-old Brian, who had scrunched up his face and was trying to escape from his nine-year-old sister Sylvia, who was laughing and attempting to hold him still in the picture.

“Where is everyone right now?” Sirius asked.

Melanie sighed. “Luke and Nathan took all the kids to the beach or something for the day, I think, and Nathan’s wife is out shopping.”

“I’ll have to leave before then, I suppose. Hopefully they’ll all be late coming back,” said Sirius. Melanie laughed. “So how is Mandy Macintosh?” Sirius continued. “I assume that you still talk to her a lot?”

“Oh, of course. Mandy Stebbins, now, actually. I just saw her two weeks ago; we visit each other all the time, and travel together every once in a while when we can afford it.”

“Well next time you two travel you should definitely come visit me and Buckbeak on some nice tropical island, or maybe we’ll be in Australia or something by then.”

“It sounds nice. But I think I smell something burning…”

Sirius turned around to look at the oven. “When did I put that cake in?”

“I don’t know, you said you could handle it yourself,” Melanie teased.

Sirius walked over to the oven and removed the cake, and quickly put out the flames. It was the most horrid, misshapen mass Melanie had ever seen, and did not strongly resemble a cake.

“That turned out well, didn’t it?” said Sirius, setting the cake down on the table.

Melanie grinned. “It’s lovely. I mean it, you could sell stuff like this, start a cake shop…”

“Oi, you think I improved my baking skills in Azkaban? Or when I was hiding as a dog?”

“You never knew how to bake anyway.”

“Well, I never needed to. You were always much better at it than I was.”

“It won’t hurt you to learn, then, especially if you’re making this for Harry.” She walked over to the worktop and began cleaning up the mess of flour from the cake. “You can make another one if you want. Are you sure you don’t want help this time?”

“Yeah, I think I’ll try again,” he said, turning around next to her to face the counter. “And thanks, it would be great to have help from someone who actually knows what she’s doing. All right, what do we need?” He leaned over and reached his arm behind her, around her waist, resting his hand for a moment on the small of her back.

“Sirius!” she laughed, slapping him playfully. “What are you doing!”

He continued reaching his arm around her and grabbed the mixing bowl that was next to her on the worktop. “I’m just getting this,” he grinned.

Melanie shook her head, laughing. “You haven’t changed at all.” She picked up the bag of flour, and the two of them set to work baking a cake. It was almost as if they were young again and nothing had really happened – as if Voldemort wasn’t around. They spent wonderful, carefree hours baking the cake, talking, reminiscing, eating the parts of the first cake that weren’t burned, and dancing about the kitchen, their laughter echoing through the house.

It had been just like this before Sirius was taken away, Melanie thought as Sirius flicked burnt cake crumbs across the table at her. And it was so easy for her to feel the same way she’d felt then – with Sirius, everything felt like it was how it was supposed to be. For thirteen years, she had managed to forget sometimes, but it was all rushing back now. Only hours ago she’d found out Sirius’s real story, and already Melanie felt as if she’d never stopped loving him. She never could.

“What are you thinking about?” asked Sirius, pausing his onslaught of cake crumbs. “You looked so… serious.” He grinned at what he clearly thought was a clever pun, even after all these years.

“Just thinking about how bad that joke is. You know, I don’t think you escaped from Azkaban at all – I think you told that joke too many times and they finally got tired of it and kicked you out.” She laughed, and then added, “I was also thinking about how I’m covered in bits of cake. Thanks for that.” She stood up and a shower of crumbs cascaded off her.

“What a slob,” said Sirius facetiously. Melanie picked up a spoon covered in icing and pointed it threateningly at him, and they passed the next few minutes chasing each other through the kitchen with icing, running around and laughing like misbehaved children. Throughout the afternoon, Melanie felt all her worries and grief disappear as she was finally able to spend time with Sirius again and to know that he had been innocent. It seemed that, at least for the moment, Sirius was happy too, despite the circumstances. In the back of Melanie’s mind, she knew that this blissful disregard of the past thirteen years would only be ephemeral, but she pushed the thought out of her mind to enjoy the short time she had with Sirius for all it was worth.



The afternoon was getting late. They had just finished decorating the cake with colourful icing, and now it sat on the table ready to be sent off to England tied to the legs of a very unlucky parrot. Melanie stood up and walked towards the window, anxiously anticipating Luke’s arrival. But no one was coming yet. She hadn’t heard any noise – and with that bunch of kids, she’d hear them a mile away.

Melanie turned around and spotted the old photo of the two of them. She lifted it from the table, watching their younger selves run around again, and then handed it to Sirius. “This is for you,” she said.

“Are you sure?” he asked, surprised. He looked down at the picture and smiled. “Thank you.” He set the picture next to the cake on the table and hugged Melanie tightly.

They held on to each other for a long time, but finally jumped apart when there was a loud crack from outside. “That’s everyone back again,” Melanie said quickly, her heart sinking. “You should go – I don’t think this would go over too well with everyone.” She pointed her wand at the cake and a box formed around it, which she gave to Sirius.

They stood and looked at each other for a moment, thinking of the things they would have said if there was more time.

“I’ll see you later sometime,” said Melanie, and then leaned in to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Now go, before they come in!”

“I love you,” he said.

“I…” Melanie began, unsure of what to say, although she knew she should say something. She could still feel the spark between them, but it could never be; she wished Sirius had just left it unsaid. But then the doorknob rattled. “Impeccable timing you’ve got,” she said. “As always.”

Sirius grabbed the box and the picture, and Disapparated with a crack, leaving Melanie alone in the kitchen with Sirius’s words still echoing in her mind. In haste she seized her wand and performed a quick cleaning charm on the kitchen, Vanishing the remainder of the first cake.

Everything that day had happened so fast. Melanie stood there for the next few seconds facing the stove, too emotionally drained to even think. Sirius’s unforeseen visit had been both wonderful and painful. She had never expected to see him again, and had been entirely unprepared for all the memories and feelings flooding back; it was bittersweet. But she had to get over it soon, because the loud party of her family had just come in through the door.

At the sound of footsteps running into the room, she turned around, and was faced with Brian carrying an enormous piece of seaweed. Sylvia followed him, covered in sand and tracking it all over the room. Nathan was carrying Leila on his back, and she had draped his hair with seaweed and was squealing in laughter as it got in Nathan’s eyes. Amira and Luke walked in after them, smiling. Melanie composed herself and forced a laugh. “Did you have a good time at the beach today?” she asked, ruffling Brian’s hair when he walked over to her.

“Yeah, we found a jellyfish,” said Brian. He put the seaweed on the worktop. “It smells like cake in here! Mum, did you make a cake? Can I have some cake?”

“That wasn’t a jellyfish,” Sylvia argued as she took off her shoes and dumped them unceremoniously in the middle of the floor along with a great heap of sand.

“Well what was it then?” asked Leila.

“It was a baby Grindylow,” Sylvia insisted. “If you’d have touched it, you would have grown fangs.”

“Eww,” said Leila.

“Really?” asked Brian, agog. “Cool! We have to go back, I want to find another one!”

“Grindylows don’t look like that, Sylvia, stop teasing your brother,” said Luke, laughing. “And Brian, you don’t grow fangs if you touch one. So don’t get excited.”

“I’m sorry, Luke,” Melanie said, laughing as well. “They spent the entire time doing that, didn’t they?”

“It was fine. Did you have a relaxing day?” he asked, hugging her. “Are you feeling better?”

Melanie hugged Luke back as she tried to find a way to answer. “Well, it was… er… I don’t know. Not what I expected.” Honestly, she didn’t know if she was feeling better. Physically, she was fine, but the combined emotion of Sirius arriving and then so rapidly having to depart again had left her quite disorientated.

“How so?”

“Mel, what’s last week’s Prophet doing on the table?” Nathan interrupted, much to Melanie’s relief. “You don’t still need this, do you?”

“No. I forgot about it.”

Melanie took two steps towards the table and tripped on Sylvia’s shoes. She clutched the table to avoid falling. “Sylvia, please do something about your shoes,” she said. “And Brian, do you want to take that piece of seaweed outside?”

“No thank you,” said Brian, and ran after his cousin out of the room.

Melanie glanced at Luke and rolled her eyes. “I suppose it adds to the décor,” she said.

“He’ll take it away when the kitchen starts smelling like seaweed,” Luke suggested.

“Our kids are a disaster,” said Melanie. “What happens when they start at Hogwarts? I just know Sylvia’s going to lose her shoes in the Great Hall one day and never get them back.”

“Oh, she does take after her mother,” Luke teased. “You ran around Hogwarts barefoot too – you haven’t forgotten what your friends did to you on April Fool’s Day during sixth year?”

Melanie laughed at the memory. How could anyone forget that?

“You never told me that story,” said Sylvia eagerly, stepping back into the room, her eyes twinkling. “Did you get in trouble, Mum?”

“A little. I lost a few points for Slytherin,” Melanie admitted. Then she frowned slightly. “Don’t you get any ideas now,” she joked. She wouldn't put it past Sylvia to start out her time at Hogwarts in two years by hexing someone's shoes away just to see if they'd get caught.

Sylvia went off to play in the yard with Leila and Brian, and Melanie walked over to the window. Somewhere, Sirius was out there. It was unlikely that the Ministry would stop hunting him anytime soon, because the case against him was so strong with no living witnesses other than Peter Pettigrew, who everyone still believed to be dead by Sirius’s hand. So Sirius would probably on the run for a while.

And what would happen if they saw each other again? It could never be the same as it was all those years ago, and Melanie didn’t know how to adjust to whatever it was now. The truth was that she was happy, but now that she had Sirius back in her life she didn’t want to let him go again.

Maybe she’d write to him. She hoped they could stay friends, and that she could see him again when he returned to England. Eventually his name would be cleared of the crimes he had not committed, and he could go back to a normal life like he deserved. It would turn out all right in the end.


*~*~*~*~*~*~*


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The Brave at Heart: I. Epilogue: Sixteen years later

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