AN: "Whole again - Sirius" is a sequel of (guess) "Whole again - Severus". I just could not let go. If you liked Laurel and Serene, you'll meet them again as well as a few new characters.
You may want to read "Whole again - Severus" first to get a better understanding of what is going on ...
Language (as in foreign language) is still an issue. So if some of the grammar sounds German, let me know.
Rating: R - for what is about to happen.
WHOLE AGAIN - Sirius
1. An Unlikely Alliance
"You see, there is no way out of my dilemma."
Claire Winterstorm blinked away the tears she had been fighting for the last day or so. She'd cry as soon as she arrived home. But not here, not in Albus Dumbledore's office. She had cried here once before and it had not saved her. The portraits of the late Headmasters looked down at her as if they remembered her weeping - and they probably did.
"There is always a way out, Claire." Dumbledore passed her a handkerchief. "I am sure there is a solution we all shall profit from. And while I am thinking, why don't you cry?"
Her posture shattered. She curled up in the chair and allowed the tears to flow freely. Twenty years ago she had sworn to herself she'd never ever set a foot into that wretched school again. And now she knew no other place to turn to for help. The fates really had a twisted sense of humour.
Dumbledore paced the circular study and stopped once in a while at Fawkes' perch to rub the softly cooing bird between the eyes. The usually so beautiful phoenix was in bad shape. He had lost most of his bright feathers. The phoenix blinked and flew with some effort off to Claire. Sitting on the armrest he nudged the crying woman until she allowed him to sit on her lap. He buried his head in the crook of her arm and fell asleep there.
"He will be going up in flames soon. It makes him weary and miserable." Dumbledore smiled faintly and took up his pacing. Eventually he consulted a piece of parchment which appeared to be a map of the school grounds.
"Of course. He is teaching right now."
"Huh?" Claire blew her nose.
"Do you feel better? Let us take a little walk, my dear."
She sniffed. "Sorry. I just couldn't ..."
"I have come to the conclusion that there is a certain point when the tears threaten to flood not only the heart but the brain. Then one has to cry."
"I usually don't give in so easily."
He smiled at her and pushed his glasses up his nose. "I remember you as a little girl, you were never one for crying in public."
Claire smirked and took the hand he offered her. "Crying would have only made it worse." She had her voice in check again. "Once they see they can hurt you, they will."
"Children, " Dumbledore sighed and opened the great entrance door. "They can be awfully cruel."
They walked across the vast lawn in front of the castle, past Professor Hooch and her broom class, and down to the Quidditch grounds. From afar Claire could see a small group of students sit in the grass, in a semicircle around a large black dog. The students, a mixed lot of fifth to seventh years of all houses, were discussing and it appeared almost as if the dog answered their questions.
Dumbledore clapped his hands to get the attention of the group. The dog looked at them out of intelligent dark eyes and barked twice when Dumbledore said: "Professor White, may we interrupt your class?"
The animal took off towards the changing cabins at the back of the Quidditch stands. Dumbledore looked at the students.
"Now, have you mastered this very advanced art yet?"
One of the fifth years from Gryffindor laughed. "Professor White says to be patient. So that is what we do, most of the time."
"Patience is a virtue, Harry. Even you will acknowledge that one day."
The Headmaster waved his wand and a faint bell rung. "Oh, class is over already," he gave the students a smile and a wink. "Off you all go."
Claire stared after the boy and his friends, who ran for their brooms that leaned at the fence. Within minutes a fast and rather rough game of Quidditch was on.
"Is he ..."
"Yes, "Dumbledore nodded. "The boy who lived."
"I heard about him. Coco told me he had a scar on his forehead."
"One of my house-elves. She is rather fond of the tabloids. The boy is somewhat of a celebrity in my household."
"Unfortunately he is a celebrity in all the wizarding world. Which means half of them are gaping at him while the other half tries to kill him."
Claire swallowed hard. "I heard about … the incident last year at the tournament."
"Did you? The Ministry tried their best to keep it under wraps."
"The elf-network. My elves and the Hogwarts elves are in close contact."
He chuckled. "So while you were supposedly living in a prison you knew more about what went on than Fudge himself."
She did not answer but twisted a strand of fair hair nervously between her fingers, a habit Dumbledore remembered as well as her talent for silence. So he kept talking.
"Professor White is an Animagus. We try to keep the class out here, where they can use the Quidditch facilities to change back into human form."
"But I remember Professor McGonagall changing fully clothed?"
"The less clothing the less energy is needed. Therefore the changing cabin. After all, it won't do to have naked wizards running around the grounds."
"No, it probably won't." She nodded seriously.
Dumbledore watched her from the corner of his eyes. He had intended the last remark as a joke, to cheer her up a little. She was way too serious, but then she had been an exceptionally serious little girl.
A tall man approached them from the changing cabins, his head still stuck in the depths of a red sweater.
"Gryffindor," muttered Claire.
Dumbledore took her lightly at the elbow. "Claire, let me introduce you to Professor …"
The wizard had eventually found the neck of the sweater and came up for air. Tousled black hair fell into dark blue eyes that almost appeared black. Strong cheekbones accentuated a very male face, with no soft features but long thick lashes. Claire forgot to breathe for a second.
"You!" she hissed.
The wizard stared at her and frowned. His eyes darted to Dumbledore and back to Claire.
"Do I know you?"
"Well you probably don't," her voice was so soft he could hardly hear her. "Pitty is I do, Sirius Black."
She turned on her heel and started towards the castle.
Sirius stared at the small witch's back as if a bludger had hit him. "What is her problem?"
The Headmaster shrugged and chuckled. "Why don't you find out? Better hurry before she tells all of Hogwarts that you are Sirius Black and not Professor White."
"But the charm! How could she recognise me?"
"I really have no idea, Sirius. You'll catch her, won't you? I am expecting the two of you in my study."
The old wizard Disapparated and left Sirius standing. He sighed exasperatedly and went after the witch. She seemed familiar … the fair hair, the grey eyes. But he could not put a name on her. Probably she was somebody's sister or friend.
His legs were longer and it took but a few strides to catch up with her. He stepped in front of her to block her way and had her run right into him.
Claire shook with unfamiliar anger. This was a bad day, oh yes, this was probably the worst day in the worst week of her life. First the very unpleasant discussion with cousin Valerius, and now this. Sirius Black of all wizards!
He blocked her like a keeper would block a pass at Quidditch. Claire's head reached barely to his shoulder but that gave her the advantage of surprise. She walked straight under his outstretched arm.
Sirius lost what little patience he had. "What for Merlin's sake is the matter? Should I remember you, Miss?"
"Listen, I don't have time for this. How come you recognise me?"
He was worried. The Aurors were still after him, even searching Hogsmeade now and then, and there was still a warrant with his picture pinned to the wall of the owl office. The Incognito charm Professor Flitwick had developed, had fooled everybody until now. People would look at him and see a pleasant if nondescriptive face. Minutes later they would have difficulties to describe him or recognise him in a crowd. Of all the students in Hogwarts only Harry knew his true identity. And now this strange witch took a mere glimpse at him and called him by his true name.
"You gave me reason enough to remember you, didn't you, Black? But then I was just one of your many victims, so why would you remember me?"
She turned away and there was something in her eyes, in the way she kept her head up, that transported him years back into the past.
"Claire Winterstorm," he said slowly. "The Hufflepuff Princess."
Claire winced when she heard the hated name. "Just leave me alone."
"Stop!" He took a step and grabbed her arm to hold her back. "Quit running away. It makes me nervous."
"What do you want?" She could not bear to look at him. It was bad enough to be back to Hogwarts where all the troubles and hardship had started.
"Dumbledore wants to see us in his study. Now."
"You may tell him I am not interested any more. And let go of my arm!"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Sirius frowned. "Oh, Lady Winterstorm orders her humble servants around as usually."
"I am not …" She drew a deep breath to gather some countenance. "I am not ordering you around. I simply ask you to let go of my arm."
He dropped his hand at once and stepped back. "One better sees Dumbledore if he suggests so."
"I know." Her voice trembled all of a sudden with fatigue and sorrow. For a moment Sirius was afraid she might faint right into his arms, but then she pulled herself together and walked across the lawn towards the castle.
He could do nothing but follow her grumbling.
* * *
Claire perched on a chair by the desk as if she'd jump up any minute and run from the office. Sirius remained standing and kept a vigilant position next to the door. She would not leave before she gave an explanation how she had undone the Incognito charm.
"Well, well." Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Who of you is going to fill me in?"
"He made my life hell when I was at school." Claire blushed to the roots of her fair hair.
The Headmaster gave her a sheepish grin. "I forgot you knew each other."
"He embarrassed me in front of everybody. He made up that name …"
The old wizard eyed Sirius quizzically. "Name?"
Sirius squirmed. "Hufflepuff Princess." Impatiently he waved his hand at the woman. "She behaved like one for sure. She ordered everybody around. By Gryiffindor, she even brought her very own slave!"
"Ygor was not my slave!" Claire still couldn't say the name without feeling a stab of pain. "He was my friend."
"He slept on the floor in front of her bedroom!"
She avoided his eyes that were full of condescension. "That was not my idea."
"Don't forget it was I as Headmaster of this school who allowed this particular arrangement," reminded Dumbledore. "I had my reasons."
"Somehow he found out that Ygor would let me take a walk all alone once in a while at night time when I could not sleep. And he …" she drew in a shuddering breath, "he cast a spell on Ygor and made him forget that I was out on the grounds."
Sirius pressed his lips together.
"I was lost somewhere past the Quidditch field. I waited. Ygor did not come …"
"And of course Princess Claire could not just use her wand to light the way and lead her back to the castle like us commoners."
"I understand, Claire, that you bear a grudge. No, Sirius, not now," he blocked off Sirius' angry protest. "But you are not students anymore. You are both grown ups, even if your behaviour lets me fear else. Now, there is the charm that does not work anymore. Do we have an explanation for that?"
He turned to Fawkes who was whistling softly and looking at Claire with pleading eyes. "Dear girl, would you?"
"Oh Fawkes, I am sorry." She jumped up and lifted the bird off his perch. Cradling the plucked phoenix in her arms she returned to her chair.
"The charm, Albus," Sirius insisted with barely veiled anger.
"You are right. Claire, we have cast a charm onto Sirius, an Incognito charm. Outside of the staff-room nobody is supposed to recognise him. But you did. Why is that?"
"I have no idea," she shrugged. "Maybe the charm was no good."
Dumbledore coughed. "Thank you very much."
She clasped a hand to her mouth. "I am sorry, Headmaster. What I tried to say was that maybe the charm does not work on … people like me."
Sirius snorted. "Right. Since when makes nobility immune against charms?"
"I. Am. Not. Nobility."
The Headmaster shook his head and sighed. All the gilded portrait frames were filled with former headmasters, knights and ladies who listened anxiously.
"I shall confer with Professor Flitwick on that problem and we shall find a solution, Sirius. Don't you worry."
Black bowed his head.
"But there is another problem that requires our consideration. Yours especially, my boy. Claire here needs a husband."
Sirius rose a dark brow. "Does she? I thought a mere flick of her hand and …"
Dumbledore shook his head. "Quit it, Sirius. I am not in the mood today to hear the two of you continuing your student bickering."
Black crossed his arms over his chest and frowned.
"Claire? Why don't you explain the situation to Sirius?"
"To him?" She sounded incredulously, but lowered her voice when she noticed the stern expression on the Headmaster's face. "My parents died two years ago. They appointed my cousin Valerius as my guardian …" she exhaled carefully "… for certain reasons. My cousin keeps pressing prospective husbands at me. I can not dispose of the fortune I inherited until I am married."
"And this is where you come in, Sirius."
They both stared at Dumbledore in shock and refusal.
"Claire, sit down, please." The old wizard petted Fawkes who had awoken with the sudden noise. "And you, Sirius, listen."
"You know that there is no way Severus can take up his role as a spy now that Voldemort knows about his alliance with us. But we must not remain without any information about the Inner Circle. You also know how incredibly hard it is to get into that very circle. Only pure blood and the promise of fundamental financial support will gain admission. Claire offers to be our spy."
Sirius opened his mouth but decided at Dumbledore's hard glance to remain silent.
"She is a descendant of one of the oldest families in the country. And everybody knows about the Winterstorm money. The Death Eaters tried to recruit Valerius several times, but although he is genealogy incarnate, he would never donate the family fortune to Voldemort's cause. After all, Tom Riddle's blood is not exactly as pure as he expects his followers' to be. But if Claire had access to her heritage, the Death Eaters will kiss her feet. Therefore she has to marry."
"I don't care about the money. I only want my freedom," Claire interfered softly without looking at Sirius. "My father's will decrees that I have to be married or Valerius will remain my guardian. If I can earn my freedom by being a spy, I'll do so."
"And your price for helping us fight the Dark Lord is a husband?" Sirius stared at Claire furiously. "You must be kidding."
Claire stood and glanced at him defiantly. "Forget it, Headmaster. I'll find another way to get access to the money and the Inner Circle. I don't need this … this big oaf to … "
"Sit down, Claire," Dumbledore repeated. "Sirius …"
Black rose a hand and gave her a scowl. "I suppose I should be flattered. But I am not. I am out of here, Headmaster."
Dumbledore let him leave and slam the door without trying to hold him back.
"My, he hasn't changed one bit," Claire stated as soon as she had calmed Fawkes, who hid his bald head under her arm cooing pitifully.
"Still very handsome, isn't he?" Dumbledore watched her blush and settled back contentedly.
"Still very … arrogant. And impolite. And downright mean."
"He is not mean, Claire. He is angry, I grant you that. The last fourteen years have not been easy on him."
"I know," she frowned. "They assumed he killed James and what was her name?"
"Yes, Lilly Evans. I assume you consider him innocent. Otherwise you would not allow him to teach, would you?"
"He is innocent. I am convinced of that, even if Sirius is not."
Claire curled a strand of hair around her finger. She carried the guilt about Ygor's death every living minute and knew how it felt when everybody pronounced you innocent while you knew better.
"He would not harm you, Claire."
"What happened then was supposed to be a harmless prank. How was he to know … about you? We have not seen each other for a while, but since you came to me for help, I assume you trust my judgement."
She sighed and looked very young all of a sudden. Then she gave in. "Talk to him."
Dumbledore raised. "Give me an hour."
"He is … stubborn."
Claire stroked Fawkes few remaining feathers. "I'll wait."
When the Headmaster had left, she gently rocked the phoenix and pressed a kiss onto his head. "Ah Fawkes," she whispered. "Why must it be him?"
The phenix cooed but did not answer.
On the foot of the winding stairs Dumbledore met Laurel, who had just finished teaching a class of first year Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors and watched the students disperse in all directions.
"Laurel," the Headmaster gazed around searchingly. "You haven't by any chance seen Sirius pass by?"
"Pass by?" She snorted. "He looked as if he was about to strangle somebody."
"I am afraid he is a little upset about a suggestion I made."
"Is he?" Laurel's eyes twinkled. "I hope you did suggest he'd get his act together." Then her smile faded and she got serious. "No, I did not mean that. He is aching, Headmaster. He won't admit it, but something has to happen or he'll succumb to despair."
"I know," Dumbledore sighed. "But if you ever thought Severus pigheaded, you haven't yet tried to talk reason into Mr. Black."
"Good luck," said Laurel. "He was headed for the North tower. Lately he has taken to sit up there and brood."
"Thank you, my dear. Talking about brooding - how is the Potions master doing?"
She smiled again and the sheer warmth and love of that smile made Dumbledore forget his sorrow for a moment. "He took up teaching today and has already taken away 186 points from various houses. He is fine."
"Lovely," the Headmaster smirked and crossed the Hall to the North tower, while Laurel went down to the dungeons to reassure that Professor Snape was indeed fine. If not, she make him.
* * *
"Sirius, listen to me."
Dumbledore had to bow his head to get through the low door to the tower platform. "Claire really needs a husband."
"Was there nobody else she could buy?" Black scowled. He leaned against the railing and stared at the Headmaster defiantly. He had needed fresh air, and the cool breeze had somewhat calmed him, but he was still nonplussed about the plan.
"Nobody I'd trust with her safety."
Sirius shrugged. "You heard her, Albus. She can do it alone."
"She can not," said the old wizard softly. "She is a squib."
The gazed at each other, Dumbledore sadly and Sirius thunderstruck.
"A … squib?" he studdered.
"That's why she could not find the way back to Hogwarts then. She could not light her wand."
"But why did she ever get a letter?"
"The Winterstorms pleaded with me until I gave in. They thought she'd grow into it if she got a proper education. After all she is very intelligent and there had never been a squib in the family. Merlin knows, the girl tried. She tried so hard it was painfully to watch. "
"Claire's father insisted on his presence as her servant and her guard. After all nobody was to know that Claire was … handicapped. Sebastian Winterstorm donated a large sum of money, so the school board made an exception and let Ygor stay with Claire. Whenever magic was asked for, Ygor would provide it."
Sirius rubbed his eyes. "I can't believe it. Didn't anybody notice?"
"No. I just thought she was spoilt and …"
"And made fun of her."
Black nodded slowly. "There was this little girl, so small she looked even younger than she was. And she kept her head so high she still seemed to look down at us."
"At the end of her second year in Hogwarts it became obvious that her … condition would not improve. You graduated that year, so you do not know that her parents decided not to let her come back the next fall. Her classmates were told that Claire had transferred to Beauxbatons. While actually …"
He shivered slightly in the fresh breeze. "The Winterstorms were so ashamed, they locked her away."
"Locked her … away?" Black repeated incredulously.
"They would not allow her to leave the house. They owned that great manor in Hogwarts, and as far as I know Claire did not set a foot outside the gates for the next twenty years. I owled her reading lists and books. Minerva visited her once in a while, but otherwise she did not meet too many people."
Sirius starred into the distance at something only he could see.
"What happened when the Winterstorms died? She is ... what, five years younger than I? Why is this cousin her guardian?"
"As you know, squibs are not seen fit by our laws to live alone. They are either wards of their next relative or wards of the Ministry. Which is now, with half the Ministry on Voldemort's side, a certain death sentence. You remember what the Death Eaters did to those squibs in Cornwall?"
"They burned them alive." Sirius swallowed hard.
"It is not just about the money and her freedom. Claire wants Voldemort's defeat as ardently as we do. That's why she needs more than just a husband in name, Sirius. She needs a bodyguard. She may appear fragile but that deceives. She'd venture into the Inner Circle alone, and if they ever found out what she is, she'd have no means to defend herself."
Sirius clenched his fists and turned away from the Headmaster.
"I can't, Albus," he muttered. "How can you trust me with her life, knowing I … I failed the last time."
"Dear boy," Dumbledore reached out for him, but let his hand drop when Sirius jerked back. He gave the young wizard a minute to regain his composure.
"Considering the past events I can't ask Severus …"
Sirius snorted. "Yeah right. As if Laurel would let him marry another woman, even if it was in name only!"
"I could ask Remus though."
Silence followed his words. Black stood by the wall and pressed his forehead against the cool stones. Remus, who was so in love with that crazy redhaired witch … Who had never loved anybody until now … Remus would answer Dumbledore's call without a question, even if it meant that he lost Serene.
"Keep Remus out of it, Albus. Have some mercy."
"Ah Sirius, do you really think I am asking this to spite you? Or to hurt you?" The Headmaster's eyes clouded with sadness.
Black groaned. "No, of course not."
"I would not ask this from you without some compensation on your part."
"Compensation!" Sirius scowled. "Is the Princess going to pay me for posing as her husband?"
"You'd better stop calling her that. I got the notion she does not like it very much."
"Does she? Well, tell me, what is she offering?"
"Claire does not offer you anything. But I do."
The Headmaster stroked his beard and pointed to the Quidditch pitch where the Gryffindor team practised dives.
"You know that I placed Harry in the care of his next of kin when he was but a baby."
"Right." Sirius waited for what was about to come.
"But considering that you are his godfather …"
"And considering that you are going to be a married man, living in a mansion big enough for a family … I could be convinced to let Harry live with you. And your lovely wife of course."
Sirius stepped towards the railing and took a deep breath.
"This is blackmail."
Dumbledore winced when Sirius hit the wall with his bare fists. So much anger. So much pain. Sometimes he thanked the fates that his youth was long behind him. "Lately I have to resort to extortion more often than I like. First Severus and now you ...," he muttered under his breath.
Black exhaled and gave him a look of unveiled contempt.
"Tell her I'll marry her."
"Very well." Dumbledore smiled kindly. "I'll tell her. We should do it as soon as possible. Tomorrow at the registry office in Hogsmeade?"
Sirius shrugged, his face empty.
* * *