I have found a solution to my problem and I have cheated the ever-present guards from the feast of my fragile and meaningless soul. It is so simple it is laughable but I am very weak and exhausted and I do not know how long it has been since I began this lonely experiment; I barely remember my own given name. I have no real concept of time, though I fear I have been here many months now, possibly a year or more. My heart quickens in a rush of panic as I consider the world outside that I left so far behind. Has she forgotten me? No, she would never forget me. Has she failed me? No, she cannot fail me for she promised. I will not allow myself to give up all hope for she is the only glimmer of hope I have now. That and my constant knowledge that I am an innocent man. She knows that; she just has to prove it.
I can transform to my Animagus form and they do not acknowledge me as anything other than the poor wretched beasts teetering on the brink of madness in the cells around me. I can be free of some of their powers and incessant misery when I am dog like and I can have my private memories on show in my own private world. And yet, even as a dog, I still feel fear and anguish surrounding me in a cold mist, reaching with icy cold fingers for my heart as it slowly creeps to wrap itself around me and distorts my reality so I cannot tell fact from fiction. Much of my time is spent plotting and scheming against those who would not hear my voice when I protested my innocence: Crouch, Fudge, but above all Pettigrew. Peter Pettigrew; the man who fooled us all with his sycophantic, weak-willed ways. The man who should take his rightful place here in the cell with the other rats for company; yes, this cell would suit him well. He is a constant presence in my dreams, for I sleep often, all my energy taken by my transformations, and so is Arella. I do not feel anger towards her like I do the others: she had no choice but to bring me here when all evidence pointed to my guilt and she was only following the orders of others. She had no choice but to bring me here. She will save me, just as I once attempted to save her, but I failed her: she cannot fail me.
I tipped back my chair, scanning the faces seated around the table as I did so with a sense of pride swelling within me, as I was the Lord and Master of my own home. It wasn’t much and terribly run down and shabby in places; the bathroom was musty and the bath leaked through the floorboards to the downstairs ceiling if you moved around too much. Much of the wallpaper in the living room was peeling off through mould and wear and tear and the greater part of the upstairs was infested with Doxy’s but here, in the dining room, I had managed to exterminate them and the room had a certain elegance about it in the dull light of the candles I had placed around us in three large Gothic candelabra which were formed into twists from the base in sensuous, curved motions. I had purchased a worn mahogany oval table as a distinguishing showpiece and just the basic cutlery and crockery essentials. The curtains were in a rich golden velvet hung from up high with swags and fringing, and Arella had insisted I buy a huge Persian rug for in front of the fire in the living area. She had helped me buy much of the items in the house as she had more of an eye for that sort of thing than I did. The house now had a feminine touch about it; something in living with the Black family I had not been used to. My mother was never one for such frivolities.
James and Lily had joined me on this special night, as had Remus. Peter had a last minute date, which caused much speculation and chatter amongst us, so he wasn’t joining us this night and Arella was in the kitchen, preparing her favourite chocolate mousse recipe, which she had volunteered to make when I said I would entertain everyone for the celebration of her birthday. She and I had already had a little too much celebrating in the form of fire whiskey before the party had even begun, and now I decided the time was right to inform my closest friends of my scheme. A crash of breaking crockery and those plans were interrupted.
“You alright, Rellie?” I shouted, wondering what she had done this time. She was always clumsy when she’d had too much to drink.
An awful cackle of hysterical laughter came out of the kitchen followed by “Bugger it” and more incessant laughter. We all got up to peer around the kitchen door. There sat our dessert in one mound of frothing chocolate sitting in several pieces oozing across the floor with Arella frantically trying to scoop it up before we all saw the turmoil she was in. She had chocolate all over her face and down her dress and as I looked at the state of her I had to laugh and join her in the chaos that I was taking pleasure in. Transforming into the dog I jumped up on my hind legs and licked the mousse off her shocked face, making her struggle and squeal.
“Sirius, pack it in!”
I transformed back, laughing at her annoyed face. I rose and graciously grabbed both her hands, pulling her up off of the chaotic floor into a friendly bear hug and kissing her gently on the lips absentmindedly, as if it were my natural place to do so.
“You shouldn’t be clearing up, you silly old hag! You’re the birthday girl, for goodness sake.”
“Yeah” grinned Lily, her emerald eyes sparkling, “He’s right Rellie, and anyway I made you a proper birthday cake with candles and everything. We can have that!”
Lily laughed at James worried face at the mention of her cooking, as did we all, and we made our way back down to the table to watch Arella blow out the candles Remus had lit for her. The flickering flames played upon her alabaster skin, highlighting her cheekbones and her reddened, inviting lips and whether it was the drink talking I’m not too sure but she looked radiant that night and my plan was confirmed just by seeing that vision. She was the first to enquire.
“So come on then, don’t keep us in suspense any longer! What’s this plan of yours?”
“Yeah” smirked James “ What is it this time, Mastermind? Joining us at the Aurors, becoming the next Minister of Magic?”
“Nope” I answered haughtily, raising my nose into the air slightly.
Remus stared at me with a quizzical and horrified expression on his face. “ You haven’t gone and got yourself a job, have you?”
“Pah” I barked, “ Don’t be obscene Remus!”
“Well, we’re all waiting, Sirius.” muttered Lily in a joking sort of way, her arms folded in a stern but mock expression. All my dearest friends were awaiting my every word.
I took a deep breath and looked around at their expectant faces. “I’m going back to my parents.”
It was James who reacted first, with a bemused look on his face. He scoffed. “You are joking?”
“No, and Arella is coming with me.”
Arella blinked slowly as if she had misheard what I had just said and then as the reality of my words hit her she frowned. She knew from the look on my face that I was serious.
“Why? Why on earth would I want to come and visit your parents with you? Why would you want to visit your parents, for that matter?” She sat open-mouthed waiting for a reply.
“Because you and I will be living together by then.”
It was at this point that James went into hysterics and banged his head onto the table; the effects of being a little inebriated. As we all stared at him it wasn’t until he raised his head for breath that he glanced upon my sober face that the laughter ceased. He glared at me aggrieved I had not let him in on my scheme.
“But you two aren’t…well…you know, are you?”
Arella reddened, shaking her head at him in an angry gesture, her eyes as black as a midnight sky, they always grew darker when she was angered. “ No we are not, but what the bloody hell has it got to do with you anyway, James Potter.” She stood up and pushed her chair out of the way making an awful scraping noise to wake the dead as she did so. “I’m going to make a coffee. I need to sober up for this. And I’ve wrecked my new dress! Some bloody birthday this is turning out to be.”
James sat upright in a rigid stance to counter Arella’s furious stare as she stormed out of the room. His normally friendly face was now ashen and they looked set to duel if Lily had not placed her delicate hand upon James’ arm and controlled his temper a little. Lily was sat next to Arella’s now vacant seat and she coughed to break the angry silence and all heads turned to hear her wisdom. If anyone could break the tension then Lily could.
“When you say live together you mean you’d pretend to, or you actually will, Sirius?”
I stood up and as I explained my plans I strolled around the table, gesticulating frequently to give weight to my words, though I still gripped my whisky glass as I did so.
“Look, I had an idea that I could help out the Order by somehow getting back in my parents good books. I can’t be an Auror like James or Rellie, or a Death Eater for that matter, and no offence to you or Peter, Lily, but Ministry work would be so tedious and dull it would destroy my soul, though I know you go out on raids with James sometimes, so as Remus is good friends with Dumbledore these days I thought I’d get him to tell him my ideas. The idea that if I went to my dear old Mum and said ‘Guess what Mother, you were right all along and I’m such a silly boy. Now I see that purebloods are the superior beings and I want to come back to you all.’ I’d learn a fair bit from them, bearing in mind their social circles and connections.”
James played with his unruly dark hair like he always did when he had a problem to think about and followed me with his eyes as I paced the room, but as he realised what I had just said he gawped at Remus.
“You knew about this? Is he really being serious? Don’t muck about you two, for Merlin’s sake! It isn‘t going to be as easy as that!”
Remus shook his head and looked directly into James’ eyes. “ I knew the bit about him going to see his parents but I had no idea that he planned this thing with Arella.”
“And me!” shouted Arella, as she returned with a tray laden with mugs of hot steamy coffee, slamming it down on the table with a heavy clunk. I smirked at her disgruntled face and approached her as I explained.
“Well, I’ve been thinking…”
She rolled her eyes at me and grunted as she began to pour out the hot black liquid into the assembled mugs, her hand shaking as she did and her lips pursed.
“And now all becomes clear, doesn’t it? I’m always in trouble when you’re thinking.”
“What do you mean?” I inquired innocently.
She stopped serving, placed the coffee pot down on the tray stood upright facing me and put her hands out in front of her chest, fingertips outstretched as she began to count my misdemeanours on her hands.
“First year, Professor Zelleg’s Potions lesson. You chucked in essence of Vakirum into my cauldron and it exploded. Potions lessons and the poor Professor were never the same for me after that. Second year, Valentines Day, you made me kiss Peter in the Great Hall at teatime because you put a love potion in my pumpkin juice. Admittedly, when I went out with Severus you left me alone, until the ultimate foolishness with him and Remus on that full moon. Then a year or two ago Zebediah McCreedy, one of my first arrests, claims that I was his alibi and I find out ‘I ‘was playing poker with him while you stole all the grog from Knockturn Alley. Except I wasn’t. Was I? He was playing Mundungus using Polyjuice. I looked a right prat after that! And last year I was in agony for weeks after you had that great idea that I needed a ride on that ruddy motorbike of yours.” She smirked as she looked at me and shook her head as if there was no hope. I looked aggrieved though I knew what she meant.
“You did! You loved it too, flying through the air with the wind in your hair and me holding you tight from behind, watching all those Muggles stuck in traffic while we soared above them. That was a lovely surprise of mine.”
“Yeah, especially when you decided to show me how fast the damn thing would go and I ended up in St Mungo’s. So what do you intend to put me through now? I can‘t believe Dumbledore agreed this was a good idea, though I‘ve been suspicious about him for a while.” Her facial expression changed as she spoke and James sat up, glaring at her.
“What does that mean, exactly?”
“Just that he knows a lot more than he lets on and yet still he lets innocent people lose their lives needlessly. That’s why I’m not in the Order.”
James frowned. “I wasn’t aware you’d been asked.”
Arella widened her eyes and pulled a resentful expression on her pretty face. “Frank and Alice told me I should think about it ages ago, but I’d rather not, thanks all the same. I’ll stick with the sharks at the Ministry. At least I know their agenda. I value my job too much to take different sides.”
“Oh come on Rellie. Lighten up a bit. Dumbledore might be a bit mad but he’s hardly vindictive. You need to relax a bit.” I grinned at her and winked but it seemed to make her more furious than ever.
“This is serious, Sirius! We live in serious times now and if you saw the things that James and I had seen going on recently you‘d wonder too. I do trust him but…oh I don’t know! How can he know what could happen and yet let it all take place? I‘ve seen children, Sirius, babies…innocent lives ruined.” She looked away from me, clutching her forehead with her hand and rubbing it as if it pained her. I took her hand away and placed it to my waiting lips, kissing her gently, holding her gaze.
“I just had an idea that wouldn’t it be an amazingly good idea if I told my parents I was about to make a most respectable Pureblood marriage.”
Arella snatched her hand away violently and turned to Remus, who was as bemused as he was silent. She sat back down in her chair with a sigh as if exhausted, but raised her voice nevertheless.
“Please tell me I’m hearing things, Remus! I mean I’m an Auror for Merlin’s sake. Did you not listen to what I was just saying?”
Remus shook his head slowly, listening to Arella’s pleas.
“I can’t say you‘re hearing things love! I actually think you should just hear him out; it’s not a bad idea, when you think about it, and I also think you should join the Order. They could do with you working with them”
If my other guests hadn’t been shocked before they certainly were now, especially James and Arella. James held his head in his hands but Lily spoke softly to cut at the heated atmosphere.
“Well I suppose you had been saying how much you hated being at the old house on your own, Arella, since your parents passed away. At least if you lived here you wouldn’t be lonely, and you’d only be pretending. And as for the Order, well, that‘s up to you. We wouldn’t force you to do anything you didn’t want to do.”
James stared at Lily incredulously, frowning as he looked into her eyes. His tone was blunt as he spoke and he raised his voice to her.
“You think this is a good idea; her and Sirius? You can’t play games on a whim now! I thought you understood Lily.”
Lily sat up and faced James head on, her green eyes shimmering as she grew angrier. She shouted back in retaliation.
“I think it has its merits, yes, and I’m sorry if that goes against you, James Potter, but I am still very much my own person and I still have a brain. Just because I agreed to marry you it does not mean you are speaking for both of us.” She turned away from him and turned to me instead, smiling sympathetically as only Lily could.
“Sirius, I think if you can help the Order without getting into any kind of trouble then you should go for it.”
James stood up suddenly and waved his arms wildly in the air as if overcome with a burst of inspiration.
“Ha! ‘Without getting into trouble.’ But Arella will be in trouble if the Ministry find out she’s engaged to a member of the Black family and living with him too, even if it is a pack of lies. They will not allow it.”
Arella stood and slammed down her mug of coffee, her dark eyes looking even blacker as she walked towards James menacingly. They flashed with her seething anger. Lily glanced across at Remus, biting her lip between her teeth, and he nodded to reassure her. I watched them and I knew what they both meant; they may have to step in if this got too much. James and Arella arguing could get nasty. She stopped just in front of him and they faced one another silently, Arella crossing her arms in front of her chest to form a barrier. As she went to speak she sucked in her cheeks and scowled at the man before her: A look like that could make a man squirm.
“Why? Who’ll tell them James? You? Yeah, you‘d love that wouldn’t you? You just can’t stand a bit of competition, Potter. Hate it if we come up trumps won‘t you?”
James mirrored her stance and crossed his arms to match her. “ I will do no such thing, but you two can’t just play games with no thought of others.”
Arella rolled her eyes. “Didn’t you hear me earlier? I said that myself! Merlin James you are pigheaded. Sirius just wants to do his bit for the Order, that’s all. Just because it’s not your idea, and the world isn’t revolving around the glorious Potter.”
James stood open mouthed before he spoke as if winded by her words. “My goodness I never realised what an effect he had on you still, Arella”
She shrugged petulantly. “I don’t know what you mean.”
I knew what he meant. I knew she understood him even though she was goading him to come out and say what he really thought about her after all this time. And I also knew the minute he did she would agree to my plans whether she had nagging doubts or not. If anyone could make her agree it was James and his obstinate lack of faith in her abilities. He had lit the touch paper and she set the world alight like the brightest firework in a cold November sky. I watched James and listened as in that split second he sealed our fate.
“Snape. You sound just like him and his arrogant ways, Arella. Maybe he had more of an effect on you than I thought. Maybe he‘s why you didn’t join the Order.”
She glared at him, but did nothing else but gave him a defiant stare and waited. The room was silent and you could have heard the proverbial pin drop until she moved away from him and sauntered towards me with the biggest smile on her face and a look of sheer rebelliousness.
“I’ll treat that comment with the contempt it deserves. I’ve changed my mind, Sirius, I think it’s a tremendous idea and I accept your kind offer. Of course I would love to live here with you, but on the understanding that we lead totally separate lives and you are forbidden to enter my room until I say you can. And no illegal gambling, or smuggling, or anything remotely dodgy while I’m here. I am still an Auror whether you like it or not.”
Raising just one eyebrow I held out my hand and we shook on the deal. I placed my arm around her shoulders and reached over to hand her a glass. She pulled me into a hug and clinked her glass against my own. “Cheers Sirius. To our new partnership.”
I watched her as she knocked back the whisky in one swift gulp and I laughed out loud as she shook her head the minute the potent liquid hit the back of her throat. It was the devil in her that made her who she was and I adored her for it. She wrapped her arms about my neck, as much for support as for affection and said, “ I bloody love you, Sirius Black.”
And as she nestled her raven-haired head against my shoulder and I viewed the stunned and silent faces around me I almost believed it could be true.