Chapter 7 : Dealt a poor hand
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The next few weeks were some of the happiest of my life. Arella and I lived as a couple, contained within our four walls and blissfully happy. My passion for her grew with every waking minute of every new day, and when, finally, she allowed me to take her in my arms as only a true lover could, I was lost in her completely.
She had been strong in her insistence that we were to delay the physical side of our relationship, but we still lay beside one another in the nights that we spent before we reached that level. It was the intimacy that I had craved for so long. We would lay in each others arms and stare at the shadows dancing on the ceiling, bare flesh against bare flesh. Her warmth relaxed me, and yet excited me, and my heart pulsed as her breath touched upon my skin. We would talk for hours, about nothing in particular, often going to bed early just to spend the time in each other’s arms, for it meant so much to us. She taught me to touch, to laugh, to listen, before the pleasures of the flesh, and she was truly a good and skilful tutor.
In her arms, I understood how James felt with Lily, and the twinges of jealousy I felt of their relationship subsided. I knew that they deserved each other, and that now I had experienced a love so pure I would do anything for them. Arella had done the one thing that I had never been able to achieve. She made me see the world from the perspective of a man, not a boy. Whether it was her, or the times we now lived in I wasn’t sure, but those few weeks with her plunged me into adulthood for the very first time. So, when, on that Tuesday night, as we lay there in each other’s arms, she kissed me, and whispered in my ear that she wanted me, needed me as a lover, I was hers completely, without objection.
While our relationship progressed beyond any I had ever known, the Order and the Ministry suffered many losses at the hands of Lord Voldemort and his followers. The death of the Prewitts was followed in close succession by Dorcas Meadows, and, to everyone’s complete shock, Marlene McKinnon and her entire family. This especially upset Arella and James, as they were the Aurors who had to search the house after the atrocity had taken place. Life as an Auror was never the same again for both of them.
I continued my charade as the dutiful son, and found out a few vital pieces of information from my Father along the way. This often involved negotiating and discussing things with the worst of the criminal fraternity, though my adrenalin pumped through me like a drug as I acted my way through the lies and deceit I faced time and time again. But none of it could prevent yet more attacks, and, as Frank and Alice Longbottom had their first near-miss, accompanied by my dear Arella, we realised that more had to be done.
Moony was the first to be sent on a special endeavour for Dumbledore. His lack of gainful employment, and lack of funds, made him all the more singular and willing to leave our group, and, once the Ministry approved his travel, he was bound for pastures new. Where, however, was to be kept between him, and Dumbledore, for all our sakes. Abroad was most likely: Remus always did have vital skills in foreign languages, and diplomacy in abundance from years of negotiating lesser punishments for James and I. This coincided with the approaching nuptials of my best friend and his bride to be, and so arrangements were made for a joint party, to celebrate and commiserate our shifts in fortune. A stag night come leaving do for my two dearest friends, both of which I feared I was about to lose forever.
The party was set for a fortnight before the future Mr and Mrs Potter’s special day, and Arella helped me prepare for the event all the week prior to it. She had arranged a surprise hen night for Lily and her friends, though they were limited on whereabouts they could hold such a gathering, with a small handful of vital Aurors and Ministry personnel invited. Her parents allowed them their house for the night, and the girls set up surveillance in teams to keep watch. Even then, they could not be careful enough.
Arella had agreed to shop for the big event two days before it got underway, but, as she came home that Thursday evening, she looked hot and flustered, and I knew something was wrong.
“Rellie? What is it?”
She hid her reddened face from view, and sniffed a little. “Nothing at all. I was just thinking about Marlene and her family, that’s all. The war, Sirius. It makes things so difficult for us…for us all.”
I stepped towards her and wrapped my arms around her body, holding her tight to me. It was unusual, and uncomfortable to see her cry, and yet there was a vulnerability about her I adored. She was the same wild-eyed and daring Arella, and yet this new side to her was all the more endearing now I knew her so intimately. It was like I had stripped off the layers to her soul and here she was, exposed and needy. I lifted her chin with my hand and kissed her lips.
“I know it’s hard, darling, but we still have each other, and all our friends. We still have us.”
She rested her head wearily upon my shoulder and muttered into my shirt as she spoke, her mascara leaving a black stain upon the cotton. “How long for though, Sirius? How long for?”
“Come on. This isn’t like you! Is there something else? Did something happen at work?”
She shook her head in denial. “No. Not at all. I just find it hard sometimes, that’s all. I’m sorry. I’m useless, aren’t I? I forgot to get the shopping as well. I’ll go back out now and get the bits for you.”
She pulled away and moved towards the door, but I grasped at her hand and pulled her back into my arms.
“Not without a kiss goodbye.” I smiled, and kissed her tenderly on the lips, lingering a little longer than I needed to.
“I hate goodbyes, Sirius. I would hate to say goodbye to you.”
“You’re only going to get the party food, you silly moo. Merlin, you are hormonal today!”
She swiped me playfully on the arm, and laughed. “I’ll give you hormonal, Sirius Black! At least I have an excuse. What’s yours, you temperamental old sod?”
“I am not temperamental! I am the epitomy of stability and reason! I have grown out of my difficult phase,” said I in jest.
She crumpled with laughter, though tears still streamed down her cheeks. Brushing the hair away from my face with one hand, she began to reach for the door handle with the other, and, once she’d opened it, she turned back and sighed. “I love you, Sirius. Don’t change, will you? Don’t grow too old or grumpy. Be you, and only you. Whatever the war brings, still be the cheeky, happy go lucky Sirius I adore.”
I bent down and kissed the very tip of her nose.
“Of course, my darling. Even if I were to die tomorrow, I‘d still come back to cause you grief. I love you, you silly old tart. And if I can amuse you in the process, then all is good.”
“Don’t talk so.”
“What? About dying? Arella, I’m far too cantankerous to die. When I go, I want to be shot down in a blaze of glory, surrounded by amazed onlookers. Or be really old, having done everything I want to in my life, and broken as many laws as possible, and just die in my sleep. It’s a long way off. I intend to enjoy life while I can, and as much as I can. I think the recent events have taught us that.”
Arella nodded slowly, and whispered to me, “You’ll live forever, you will. I can see it now.”
“Yes I will. I’ll be immortal like a Greek god. They’ll name things after me. I know I’m destined for fame….or maybe infamy! And if you don’t hurry up and get that shopping I’ll come back to haunt you when I do go. Now be off with you. I have some serious planning to do. I wonder where I can get some of those Muggle handcuffs for Prongs.”
The night of the party arrived, and as usual Arella insisted on helping me with the preparations. She was sad at seeing Moony leave, as they had often been very close, and the war had been hard on their relationship. She often said she felt she didn’t know him anymore. That he was always working for Dumbledore on things he could never talk about, and I think a small part of her resented his choice of work, though she would never admit it. I hardly saw him that often myself now, and the secrecy around his endeavours made it so difficult for us all to talk openly about the war that the conversations were sometimes a little stilted between us. Remus, perhaps, was breaking away from the group a little now. He was always the grown up amongst us.
James, however, was a different matter. Since being with Arella, I understood him completely, and our friendship had grown with our maturity…at least sometimes we were mature. Other times, a lot of the time, we still managed to laugh and play about as if we were still at school. Lily despaired of us, and Arella had nothing to do with us when we were together, but we were still very close. Even when I told him how I felt about Arella, he was still supportive, though I knew he disapproved.
And tonight we were all together, possibly for the last time in a long time. Even Peter had torn himself away from his girlfriend and come to the party. He was another constant in the group. Still the same old unsure and weak Peter that he ever was, but he tried, and at least he laughed with us, and not at us. I’d invited Frank Longbottom along for the party too, and another Ministry friend of James’ called Kingsley Shacklebolt, who I didn’t know too well. Sat around the dining table, the drinks flowed, and so did the conversation.
“So Frank. How’s married life treating you these days? Alice got you house trained yet?”
“Yeah, yeah. Very funny, James. You wait ‘til Lily gets her claws into you. It all changes when you’re married.”
“Nah. Not my Lily. She’d never change me. She loves me just the way I am.”
I coughed into my fire whisky. “Err, since when? Lily has been trying to kick you into shape since you started going out.”
“Yeah, and he sure needed some adjustment,” grinned Moony.
“Oi! What’s that meant to mean? Tell them, Frank. Married life will be bliss. Just me and Lily and…”
“Nagging, moaning, never doing anything right…” muttered Frank in a sarcastic tone.
“Bloody hell, Frank. You married your Mother!”
The raucous laughter was interrupted by a call from the bottom of the stairs. “Well, I see the party is in full swing.” Arella stepped into the room, and all eyes turned to her. “Hello boys. Been let out then Frank?”
She grinned in the wicked way that she often did, and James and Peter sat open-mouthed as the others sat silently looking at her outfit. She was wearing biker’s leathers that clung to her every curve, slightly unzipped, and leaving little to the imagination. How I suddenly wished we were alone.
“Bloody hell. He’s gone soft in the head,” exclaimed Frank.
“Who has?” I asked.
“You!” replied James, still open-mouthed, and slurring his words a little. “Are you taking the bike to Lily’s party, Arella?”
She nodded and laughed. “Yes I am. Is it a crime, James?”
“No…but…well…it’s the bike! It’s THE bike!!! It’s Sirius’ pride and joy.”
I stood up to walk towards Arella, unable to resist kissing her, as she looked so attractive. I put my arms around her waist and looked down at the men sat at the table. My message was clear. She was all mine.
“It was my pride and joy, but as Rellie is so good with it, I decided to let her use it too.”
“Wow!” muttered Kingsley. “That’s real love for you. A woman never comes between a man and his machine unless he really loves her.”
I didn’t answer, and Arella pulled away from my embrace, but not before she had kissed me again. She walked over to where Frank was sitting and started peering into his hair. Frank turned sharply, laughing as she ran her fingers through it playfully.
“What the bloody hell are you up to?”
“Just looking for the bald spot where Alice’s thumb sits.”
“I am NOT under the thumb!”
Arella completely ignored his outburst, and talked to the other guests. “He is. I work with them all the time, and he does as he’s told. He’s only here tonight because he got his permission slip signed.”
As the table erupted into laughter, Frank smacked his hand across her backside, and she kissed him on the cheek. Arella, Frank and Alice had been through enough hard times recently to warrant such closeness, and I knew she adored both of them. She turned to the other man she was close to, and I saw the tears well up in her eyes. “Remus.”
He stood up and embraced her, holding her so very tight in a warm hug even I had to swallow the lump in my throat. They stepped back a little and held each other’s hands. Remus kissed the top of her forehead, and grinned. “No tears, Rellie. You’ll spoil your make-up. I’ll be back to see you again soon enough.”
“I hate goodbyes.”
“I know you do. But this is au revoir, not goodbye. We’ll see each other again.”
Sensing her anguish, I walked over towards them, and smiled, placing a hand on each of their shoulders. “Come on you two. This is meant to be a happy occasion. And you, young lady, have a party of your own to go to.”
“Yes. Yes I do. Ok, well have a good time boys. Take care of yourself, Remus.”
“You too, Rellie.”
Frank shouted after her, “Don’t pick up any strange men, Rellie.”
“No worries there. All the strange men I know are in here!”
Slightly panicked by Frank’s words, I ran to see her out of the door. I cupped her face in my hands and kissed her passionately on the lips, expressing without words how I felt about her. I didn’t want to lose her to anyone now. I bent down to her and whispered seductively in her ear. “You look divine in those leathers. Are you sure you have to leave right now.”
She grinned, and wrapped her arms around my neck, pulling my face so my nose touched hers. “Hmm, tempting though it is, I really should be going. But perhaps later, if you’re very good.”
“I’m always good!”
“So you say.” She stuck out her tongue and I grasped her, pinning her into a kiss from which she could not escape, putting every effort into teasing her back into the room and ignoring my guests. “I must go, Sirius.”
“Yes, yes,” I sighed “Away you must. Take care of yourself.”
“You mean take care of the bike.”
“That as well, yes.” I smirked, and she returned the gesture, shaking her head.
“It won’t be the bike that’ll be the death of me, Sirius Black. It’ll be you.”
I reached across and pulled away a length of her dark hair that had fallen across her face. She gazed straight into my eyes, and then smiled at me and touched my face with her hand. I took the hand in mine, and brought it up to my lips, kissing her soft, pale skin gently.
“Go, or I’ll be sweeping you off your feet, and up to my bed, regardless of the party.”
Screwing up her face in mock disappointment, she finally left us, and I returned to the table. Peter had found some playing cards, and now the others had started a game of poker, with matchsticks instead of money. I sat back down in my seat, and waited for my turn, looking at the eyes staring back at me. Kingsley chuckled.
“I’m not sure we should be playing with Mr Luck himself here,” he said, nodding in my direction.
“How am I Mr Luck?”
“Arella. You’re a lucky man in my book to have someone like that in your bed. How did you manage that one?”
I leaned back in my chair, tipping it backwards, and raising my hands around the back of my head. “Just my natural charm, I guess, Kingsley. That, and other things.”
Remus spat out his beer and, as he had already had a couple with James, he chuckled away at my answer. “Rellie would never have fallen for all your old waffle, Sirius. She’s known you far too long. She probably knows all your chat up lines off by heart. I think you must have her under the Imperius Curse.”
James snorted, slurring his words a little as the effects of several whisky chasers worked finally. “That, or she’s got HIM under the Curse. I still can’t believe…you know…the thing…the bike and all. The real Padfoot would NEVER have done that. Nope. HE wouldn’t have, would he, Moony?”
Remus shook his head in agreement. “No he wouldn’t. And you are drunk, James Potter. I shall tell Lily all about you. She ought to know the kind of man she‘s about to marry.”
I shook so hard from laughter my cards fell from my hands. Not only was James on his way to being very drunk, but even sober Moony was acting a little tipsy too. Peter looked astonished to see the pair of them all glassy-eyed and giggly, but Kingsley was joining in, and Frank just shook his head. He was on duty in the morning, and had to stay sober.
By the fifth round of poker, when I was winning from Frank, and just ahead of Peter, James was singing ‘I’m getting married in the morning’ at the top of his voice, and Remus was explaining to Kingsley about how to ask for the toilet in Russian, while Kingsley repeated it all to him back, hopelessly inaccurate, and Peter just listened. Frank gestured that he was going outside for some fresh air, and I followed. What he had meant by fresh air, I soon found out. Leaning on the stable door of our kitchen, while looking up into the night sky, Frank Longbottom was smoking like a chimney. As I approached, he looked a little sheepish, and breathed a sigh of relief when he realised it was only me.
“Sorry. Can’t smoke at home these days. Alice won’t allow it. We’re thinking of starting a family soon, so she’s making me stop. I was desperate for a smoke tonight. Want one?”
I took the cigarette in my hand and he lit it for me, both of us smoking and puffing the smoke out into the clear night. I watched the stars through the mist of grey smoke, and was mesmerised by their beauty. I wondered if the dog star shone down on me tonight. Frank turned to me, and frowned as he spoke in a serious tone. “Can I ask you something, Sirius?”
“Of course,” I shrugged.
“Do you really love Arella? No messing about now. I want the truth.”
I sucked in my breath, and rubbed at my chin with my thumb and forefingers, taken aback by such a direct question from a man I barely knew. I shrugged my shoulders again, unsure how to answer. I decided to heed his advice and be as honest as I could.
“I think I do. It’s nothing like any other relationship I’ve had, that’s for sure. But who knows. Why do you ask?”
“Because the Ministry want her to do something I don’t approve of, and …and if you love her, you won’t want her to either.”
I knew this day would come. Knew the perfect tranquillity of our relationship would be shattered and broken into a thousand tiny pieces. I didn’t want to know her fate, and yet I was compelled to ask. I looked directly at the concerned man, and stubbed out the cigarette under my feet, driving it into the ground with fear and frustration. “What is it they want her to do?”
“Look I wouldn’t tell you, but I’m so worried for her…”
“Tell me Frank. I need to know. I have a right to know.”
“Thursday afternoon Arella was called into the office to see Fudge. Well, we didn’t think anything of it really. We often have to keep them up to date on what’s going on, and so we, Alice and I, never batted an eyelid. And Arella was joking before she went in, but when she came out…I’ve never seen her so upset.”
He paused, watching my reaction. “Go on, Frank.”
“Alice and I said we had a suspect under surveillance and we took Arella with us, but we didn’t. We took her home to our place to see what was going on. That’s when she told us about Dolores Umbridge. Have you heard of her?”
“No, can’t say I have.”
“Lucky you. She’s an absolute bitch, Sirius. Totally ruthless and opinionated, and so far up Fudges backside she can see the sunshine. I tell you, what I wouldn’t give to throttle that woman. She’s so scheming and manipulative, she’ll go far, that one.”
“What’s this got to do with Rellie?”
“She told Rellie she knew about her old relationship with Snape. She also said she disapproved of her living here with you, as you were back in with your family, and she was an Auror. She said Rellie had never mentioned either of these things, and so she was being chucked out of the Aurors.”
Thursday? Yes, she had been down on Thursday. It all made sense. I wanted to rip this Dolores character to shreds. How dare she be so cruel?
“And she got chucked out for that? It‘s ridiculous. I mean Snape wasn‘t a Death Eater when Rellie dated him! Probably damn close, but never actually a Death Eater.”
“No, she wasn’t sacked. That’s not the worst of it. Umbridge gave her a get out clause. Umbridge and Fudge said they would ignore her ‘misdemeanours’ if she agreed to spy for them. Within the Death Eaters circle.”
My heart started to race violently, and my head tried to make sense of what was happening. Spying? Would that meant she could no longer live here? And what about getting in to the circle? Suddenly it dawned on me how this could happen and my heart sunk deep into the pit of my stomach. I gagged as I felt the tears well up inside my eyes, and I shook with anger and sorrow. I didn’t need Frank to explain the rest. I knew what they would ask of her. But he continued just to make his point clear.
“She has been told to make contact with one of the circle and become intimate with them. To use them as a spy will, get as much information as she can, by whatever means, and only then can she remain as an Auror. In a nutshell, Sirius, she’s been told to sell herself. To use her body to get what they want. To seduce Severus Snape. And if she does, and they find out, the Death Eaters that is, they’ll kill her. If she doesn‘t, then her life as an Auror is finished.”
I hung my head down and gazed at the unwelcoming floor, avoiding Franks intense gaze as I muttered, “ Has she agreed? Will she do it?”
Frank paused, and then the words I had dreaded since I heard this terrible news pierced my soul and ripped out my heart. I closed my eyes for fear of exposing my anguish, and wished upon the stars above that it were good news. But what I heard was not what I wanted to hear. What I heard echo out in the still night air was ‘Yes’.
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