Sirius stood in the door and did not look at Claire. She put down the ledger she'd been working on for the past hours to channel her nervousness, and rose from her chair to greet her husband. Still he avoided her gaze. The beard and the shaggy hair gave him a wild appearance, but at the same time he looked so battered, so forlorn, it made Claire's heart ache.
He passed her a parchment scroll, his arm outstretched so he wouldn't by any means have to touch her.
Claire took the letter and the small parcel and unrolled the scroll.
'My dear Claire,' she read silently. 'I send you this as a last resort. Do keep in mind that the truth is a sword, it can save and destroy at the same time. So think twice before you use the contents of the parcel. Listen to your heart.
Yours, Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts Scholl of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and your true friend.
PS. I trust your care with the messenger. Don't be too hard on him.'
Deeply moved by Dumbledore's words Claire put the parchment and parcel on her desk. She had planed so carefully what she'd say, but now, taking in Sirius' weariness, she abandoned all explanations and reasoning.
Eventually he looked up, his gaze defiant, almost hostile.
"What do you want, Claire?"
She twisted the hem of her sleeve to keep her hands busy.
"I want you to stay," she said. When he shook his head, she added "this night."
"Sirius, I …"
„Let me go, Claire." His bottom-lip was split and encrusted with blood and it was obvious it caused him pain to talk. "I am too tired to fight with you."
She could see that, the dark circles under his eyes, the way he held his head. He was close to a complete breakdown, and it hurt her that he did everything to get away from her before it happened. There had been a time when he'd trusted her enough to allow her to comfort him. But she'd destroyed that trust deliberately.
"You granted me a wish." Her voice was very calm, although she felt like crying. "You said I'd get anything I wanted. Well, I want this night."
He bowed his head in silent defeat.
"I am not going to play your little power games."
"I am not talking about games," she insisted. "But I want you to do what I tell you."
Shrugging wordlessly, her gave in.
Claire took his hand and bit her lip in silent desperation when he flinched at the touch. Leading him across the hall into the bathroom, her thoughts raced. There was no way she could make him understand why she'd hurt him so badly. At least not in his present state. Yes, Severus and Remus had helped him escape from Azkaban, but his mind was still behind bars. All she could do for him now, was take away the physical pain, and hope that he'd be willing to listen once he felt better.
Running a bath, she ordered in a calm voice: "Take off the robe."
He followed her instructions without a sign of involvement. The robe, she concluded from the patches and carefully mended tears, was Lupin's. When Sirius finally stood naked in front of her, she gasped in shock.
He had lost much weight, his rips showing prominently, and his skin was a dull grey. Where the magical shackles had bound him, the wrists and ankles were still raw. Her beautiful husband resembled a scarecrow - and she was the one responsible for this. All she wished for at this moment was being allowed to touch him, to heal him, but she knew very well that this was more than he could bear.
She made him step into the tub and rest his head back against the edge.
Rummaging in a drawer she found a pair of scissors and a Muggle razor, a gift by the craftsman who had built the semi-automatic appliances in the bathroom. Her father had used the razor only once, out of curiosity, and then had returned gratefully to shaving with a quick spell. But now the razor came in quite handy.
Biting the tip of her tongue in concentration, she lathered Sirius' face and started to shave off the beard.
Sirius closed his eyes. Having anybody work with a sharp blade so close to his throat should have worried him at the least, and yet he couldn't be bothered. What difference did it make if he lived or died? The warm water and the herbs Claire had added soothed the countless abrasions, and made him relax gradually, until he almost went under.
Claire caught him in the crook of her elbow and used the opportunity to pour water over his head, carefully avoiding the eyes, working a piney scented soap into the wild tangles, until they were clean and shiny.
When she asked Sirius to get up, he was so tired he could barely lift his tall frame out of the tub.
Expecting her to start reasoning with him, or worse, to justify her actions, he shrugged into the bath-robe she handed him. But instead of confronting him, she had one of the house-elves bring a tray with soup and bread.
Watching him eat, Claire sat quietly in a chair, her hands folded in her lap.
When he put down the spoon, he looked up. "What now?"
"Now you sleep."
"Sleep?" He snorted. He was so tired that it was almost painful to keep his head from falling into the soup bowl. But how could he sleep with her present, the woman who had betrayed him once and would do it again?
She could read his face, he recognised by the hurt look in her eyes.
"In your room." She picked her words carefully. "Sleep in your bedroom. Have Peagreen guard the door, if you like."
Hadn't it been for his honour, Sirius thought wearily, he'd left an hour ago. But now all he wanted was to sleep and forget about Claire, about Azkaban, about life. Without looking at her, he got up and left the salon.
His bedroom was cool and airy, the windows wide open so he would not feel trapped. Normally he'd have been grateful for Claire's consideration. But now he knew that she did not care for him. Whatever she did, was done to further her own plans. She wanted this night? Well, she'd get it. He'd sleep, and tomorrow morning, as soon as dawn rose, he'd leave.
As soon as his head touched the cool linen of the pillow, he was asleep. And his sleep of exhaustion was so deep, he never noticed the moment, when Claire slipped between to covers and drew him in her warm embrace. Cradling his head in her arms, she watched his sleep, until she drifted off into oblivion as well.
* * *
Claire dreamed that everything was alright. Sirius had forgiven her. His hands wandered down her body, stroked her skin ever so gently and caressed her breasts. Still half asleep she tried to turn and kiss him, but he pinned her down, grabbing her wrists, not allowing her to touch him.
"Sirius, what …" she panted, suddenly wide awake, confused about the bitter scowl on his face.
"Let me see how well you lie, Claire. Let me hear."
"No," she moaned and tried to escape from his lock, but to no avail. He kept stroking her relentlessly, answering every instinctive move of her hips.
"Sirius, don't do this to me ..."
A sob escaped her and was quickly superseded by a moan.
He used his knowledge about her body to punish her, showing her explicitly how much power he had over her. They had made love many times, but this was not love, this - him stroking her, teasing, suckling and still remaining completely detached - this was revenge. Claire felt like weeping when the tension became too much and her body insisted on release although her mind fought it with all the strength she had left.
When it was over, she curled into a tight ball, cradleing her head in her arms, crying softly.
Through her sobs she could hear Sirius' bitter words, while he rose from the bed and started to search for clothes in the wardrobe.
"I needed to know if your body lied to me as well."
She looked at him through a haze of tears and saw him stuff his few belongings into a bag. "I never …"
"Don't!" he spit with so much disgust in his voice it made her wince. "I am not interested. Once the child is born I'll find a way to see it. You will not withhold this right from me. I'll always be the baby's father. But whatever there was between the two of us, is over now."
"Sirius!" His name was a plea, and reluctantly he turned.
Claire stood by the chair where she'd put her robe the evening before, and held a small vial in her hand.
"Listen to me. Please."
He gave her nothing but a bitter scowl. "You said you loved me, and you lied, Claire. You lied to me. Why should I waste my time with more lies?"
Tears glittered in her eyes when she opened the vial and downed the content in one swift motion. In shock he saw her body shudder, her head jerk. He almost leaped at her, and pried open her hand to look at the vial.
"What did you take? Damn it, Claire, what did you just take?"
She blinked. "Veritaserum."
Sirius raked a hand helplessly through his hair. "Are you crazy? In your condition …"
"Albus said it would not hurt the baby."
She felt very calm, her head very clear, suddenly cleansed of all doubts and self-deception. "I lied to you only once, in that room in the Ministry. And even then some of the things I said were true." She looked him straight in the eyes. "I don't need you."
He paled. After all those weeks in his cell in Azkaban, where he had repeated these very words over and over like a mantra, it still hurt to hear her admit it.
"But you don't need me, either."
Sirius stared at her. What was she talking about?
Claire raised both hands in a silent plea for patience. "We both missed out on so many important things. So much time was taken away from us, time when we should have learned …" She searched for words. "Instead of learning to trust, we learned to depend only on ourselves. And both of us got along perfectly fine, didn't we?"
Silently he nodded.
"I could go on like I did before, all alone, and I'd survive." She touched his cheek with a trembling finger. "But I don't want to. I don't need you. But I choose to be with you, out of free will. Not because somebody coerces or forces me, not because of the plan or because of Dumbledore. Only because I love you."
Sirius caught her wrists and shook her so violently, she gasped in pain.
"Why?" he demanded sharply. "If this is the truth, why that charade in the Ministry?"
"You really don't understand?" Claire's eyes widened.
"Serene had this vision, remember? You laughed about it, but when I saw you at the graveyard in that robe, I knew what was going to happen." She clenched her fists in a vain attempt to hold back the tears. "You were happy then, weren't you?"
Sirius' gave her a bitter smile. "Yeah, I was happy then."
"The Dementors would have eaten you alive," she said very softly. "I thought, if I'd take away all happiness, you'd get a chance to survive until we'd free you."
He drew in a deep breath. "The things you said …"
"I knew they'd hurt you. It was my intention to hurt you as badly as possible. And I am not going to apologise for that, Sirius."
"Why?" he asked again, his voice now broken with emotion.
"Because I wanted you to live." She never blinked, and there was nothing in her eyes but truth. "You saved us, me and the baby, at the graveyard. You took the Mark for us."
"I'd have gladly died for you that night."
Biting her lip she gently touched the pale Mark on his forearm and this time he did not recoil. "But I don't want a dead hero. I want you alive. If it means you hate me now, then may it be so." Her hand fell. "But I'd do it again, any time."
Sirius reached for her hand, gently now, and took the second, still unopened vial from her grasp. Very slowly he opened the small glass vessel, and swallowed the clear liquid, keeping his eyes locked with hers all the time.
Claire watched his body fight the potion, as if it knew about the danger of giving up all defences. When the tremor subsided, he stepped so near, she had to look up at him. What she saw in his face, made her close her eyes.
Sirius bowed his head until his forehead touched hers. Breathing lightly against her closed eye-lids, he remained like this for a moment, taking in her presence, the warmth of her body, her heartbeat against his.
"The truth," he said softly.
He swept her into his arms and carried her back to the bed, arranging her over him like a cover, her head in the crook of his shoulder.
"You say you love me …" he started awkwardly.
Claire raised her head to get a look at his face. "Why?" she repeated. "Because … you are Sirius."
He closed his eyes and shook his head. In the dim light of dawn she saw tears glitter on his dark lashes.
"I am not good enough." The words came so low she rather sensed than heard them. "I never was."
Burying his face in her hair, he sighed. "I have failed everybody who set their trust in me so far. My brothers, my mother …"
"What makes you think that?" Claire felt the sudden urge to shake him, to yell at him to make him see how wrong he was. "You cared for them, when you were nothing but a child yourself."
"Not good enough," he said again, his voice void of emotion. "I remember how they got sick, and there was nothing I could do but sit by their bed and hope they would not die on me. And in the end that's what they did."
"But you must not blame yourself for their death!" Claire put a hand on his cheek. "Castor told me what you did for them. They adored you, idolised you. But their death is on Voldemort's hands, not on yours."
"Castor?" Sirius frowned. "When did you speak to my brother?"
"He helped us free you."
Sirius laughed bitterly. "I saw you take the Veritaserum, so you must believe in what you say. But my brother thinks I am a murderer. He'd do a damn to get me out of prison."
"Actually he forged a visiting permit for Severus and Remus. As an Auror this condemns him to Azkaban as well, if anybody finds out."
"He was wrong all those years ago, Sirius. He made a mistake, and he is sorry for holding you guilty. You must not forget he was there when they arrested you. The circumstances, and your strange behaviour … everything spoke against you. And there was something else." She put a flat palm over his heart. "Castor knew how dedicated you were once you'd made a cause your own. He feared that you'd chosen the Dark side. And acted accordingly."
Sirius started to softly stroke her back, almost absentmindedly, while he let her words sink in.
"Your mother tried to visit you," Claire continued calmly. "From what Castor told me, she had not left her room in years, but when she heard you'd been arrested, she went to the Ministry. They would not allow her to see you. But she tried, Sirius. She tried."
He held her so tight, she had troubles breathing. His pain was almost palpable, and still there were things she had to know.
"Sirius? Why did you persuade the Potters to make Peter their Secret Keeper?" A tremor went through his body, and she was close enough to him to feel his heart skip a beat. "What made you think you'd fail them?"
"I feared I'd fail them," he whispered into her hair. "If Voldemort ever got me, I'd have betrayed them."
"No, you wouldn't."
"A bit of torture, and I would have betrayed them."
She laughed, unbelievingly. "You? The wizard who broke out of Azkaban to keep his god-son save? You, who let the Dark Lord burn his Mark into your skin? To save me from the consequences of my foolish actions?"
"When Narcissa told you about my girlfriends, she was right," he whispered. "I protected them, so nobody would find out how weak I was."
"Who'd want me if they knew how weak I really am?"
The confession shook her to the core. How could this man who appeared firm as a rock be so insecure at the same time?
Rolling off him and propping herself on one elbow she looked at him intently. "You are wrong."
"No." His smile was mirthless.
"Remember what the centaur told me about your namesake, that star?"
"Sirius B.?" He frowned. "The dogstar."
"Right. A strong one and a weak one. They revolt around each other. And either one would fall if it wasn't for the other."
"Nobody is just strong. It's human to be weak at times. You must allow it," she tried to make him understand. "Cause if you insist on being strong all the time, you force others to remain weak."
"You are strong." Slowly he turned to her, his eyes shining in wonderment. "Those girls in school, my girlfriends, they needed me. Nobody ever chose me. James and Moony, yes, but never a woman."
"Yes, you do."
Sirius bent his head to kiss those soft lips, brushing, tasting, relishing the sweet mouth.
"Claire." Her name was a whisper on his lips, almost a plea. Somehow she'd got closer to him than anybody else ever had. And now it was to late to sever the bond between them. He'd rather cut his arm off.
Claire felt him grow hard against her. The Veritaserum made it impossible to lie to others, but it would not allow them to lie to themselves either. She wanted him. And he wanted her. Pride lost its meaning,
She let her hands take possession of his body again. All the nights they had spent, so very close … She knew him so well, knew how to touch him, how to please him and took her own pleasure from doing exactly that.
His breathing grew rougher.
He slowly ground his hips against hers, giving her the sweet gentle love she needed. Watching her face, he took not of every emotion that flickered over it, how her lashes fluttered, how she bit on her lower lip. A soft moan rose from her throat as he increased the force of his thrusts. But still he kept control of his own craving for release, letting her set the pace. His reward was worth the strain. She clung to him, urging him to go faster, deeper, moaning softly into his ear.
"Don't leave me alone, Sirius."
Her lips drew a fiery pace from his jaw to his collar-bone, made him draw her even closer, melding with her until there was nothing than the sensation of being with her, of being in her.
His breath came in great ragged gasps.
"I'll never leave you, baby. Never."
After this, he could not talk anymore because she took possession of his mouth, her tongue taking up the rhythm of his thrusts.
"Sirius," she moaned into his mouth, a sweet invocation on the crest of passion. When he buried himself deep in her, Claire felt the first wave of heat flood her. He filled her completely, their bodies fitting each other like two halves of a whole, adding up to something that was even more. And then the world came apart with a fierce jolt of enrapture.
Before they drifted off into sleep, Sirius drew her in his arms, and nuzzled his cheek against her ear. "There is one thing I need to know," he murmured.
"Why did you go with Malfoy when he invited you to the Death Eaters' meeting? Why did you not listen to Albus?"
She sighed. "I … No, it is too foolish now that I look back."
"Tell me." He pulled the covers over their heads so the grey light of dawn and reality were shut out. "I need to know."
"I wanted to give you something," she admitted hesitantly.
"Give me something?"
Even in the darkness Claire knew he frowned. "I was so happy about the baby," she tried to explain. "And I wanted to give you something in return."
Sirius snorted. "This is not a business deal."
"I know." She kissed the pulse of his neck. "But that's how my life was until I met you. It is a habit hard to shake off. Anyway, I decided I'd try to give you the three things you wanted most."
"Three things?" he asked somewhat distracted by her caresses. "Wait. One of them was the evening of Harry's birthday party, wasn't it? When you came to me …"
She chuckled softly.
"Another one was convincing Harry to stay with us," he speculated. "But why would you have to join the Death Eaters?"
"I wanted to give you your revenge. I wanted to find a way to get to Peter Pettigrew," she whispered, almost embarrassed about how naïve she'd been a month ago.
He froze. "You thought the thing I wanted most, was Peter Pettigrew? Revenge?"
"No." He laid a flat hand over her slight bump. "This is what I wanted. A child. Harry. You. A family." Sighing contentedly, he settled back, spooning her, her hair a soft pillow for his head. "And now sleep. Tomorrow will be a day of hard decissions."
* * *
When Claire woke up hours later, she was alone. For a moment she was sure that everything had just been wishful thinking. A dream, nothing else. The she felt the exquisite exhaustion, that came only from making love for hours, from delivering her body to the mercy of Sirius completely, and she sighed in relief. What ever the future brought, they'd work it out together. He said, he loved her. And maybe one day, he'd learn to trust her again.
Getting up, she slipped into the bath-robe Sirius had discarted the evening before, and went into her room, to choose a robe.
When she opened the door, she almost stumbled over Peagreen. The elve sat on the floor right in front of the bedroom and hummed a tune - or what was considered a tune by elves.
"Miss Claire!" she beamed. "Your Sirius he be back!"
"Yes, he is back," ssmiled Claire, touched by the open joy in the elf's eyes.
"He does not want to wake you, but tell Peagreen to tell you …" she scratched her head, "tell you to come to Hogwarts, will you please. He must make plans because he is running."
"He is running?" Claire felt her stomache clench. "Did he say that?"
Peagreen shook her head and tried to remember the exact words. "He say he be hunted by a Dark Lord and the Ministry. And he must go on the run, soon."
Claire sighed. In her happiness she'd ignored reallity, but it had fought its way back into her life. Of course he'd have to leave. Not only would he be on the "wanted" list of the Ministry as soon as Remus Lupin broke out of Azkaban this evening. But even worse, Voldemort would call his newest Death Eater, when he heard about the escape. Since Olsen was convinced that her husband was indeed the famed Sirius Black, they'd do anything to get hold of Dumbledore's spy.
She entered Hogwarts with the familiar feeling of weariness. For others this might be a place of good and happy memories, but for her it was nothing but the place where bad messages were delivered, where vicious plans were blotted, and desperate meassures considered.
The castle lay quiet, one almost got the impression that it was empty. Claire knew that this would change as soon as the students were released from class, but right now she was all alone, standing in the entrance hall, waiting for anybody to ask where she'd find her husband or the Headmaster.
While she still stood there, Sirius and Dumbledore entered the hall, both looking very serious.
Claire's heart jumped when she saw her husband's eyes light up at her sight. Without the dreadfull beard he looked better, if still tired.
Dumbledore took both her hands and gave her a gentle smile. Without saying anything, he let her know how glad he was that she and Sirius had made up.
Sirius cleared his throat. "Would you mind to give us a minute in privacy, Albus?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "Of course not. But before you talk to your wife, there is something I'd like to show you. Both of you."
He made them sit down at the stairs.
"Won't the students wonder why we sit here?" asked Sirius, only to have the Headmaster chuckle to himself.
"Class will not end for another fifteen minutes," he said eventually. "They won't like it, but there is nothing they can do about it. You know how sometimes the minutes stretch to eternity? Well, now is one of these times …"
He snipped his fingers and the great hall went pitch dark. Instinctively Claire felt for Sirius' hand and could not suppress a small sigh of contentness when he laid an arm around her shoulders. He'd leave, she knew it and understood why it had to be. All her dreams about Sirius growing old with her, bringing up their child together - they were but dreams. But right now there was nothing more real than this embrace.
Dumbledore's voice came strangely bodiless through the thick darkness that filled the hall.
"It is important that you understand what is going on," he explained. "I let Laurel see this, and it won't hurt if you see it as well."
He snipped his fingers again, and in a far corner a tiny flame came alive.
"Many years ago there was a wizard who thought he was weak and evil." The Headmaster's voice was but a whisper. "And still he was strong enough to oppose Voldemort."
"Severus," said Sirius softly.
"Yes, Severus. The one we all thought lost, decided to return. And if he could return, so can everybody."
The flame flickered and fought, but kept burning bravely.
"I spent a long time thinking about what Severus' decission meant for us all. A light in the darkness. So what if there were many more? Would there be a moment when darkness was defeated?"
Another candle appeared.
"A wizard sacrificing his life to save his wife. A mother, trying to protect her child."
Claire felt Sirius tense and gently rubbed her cheek against the hand on her shoulder.
"Jamie and Lily," he said hoarsely.
"What they did will not be forgotten." Dumbledore stepped in front of the floating flames. "As so many others."
One by one flames appeared, small ones and bright ones. "It is all about love," explained Dumbledore softly. "Love for a child, love for a friend, love for a witch or a wizard."
The flames formed a circle that was only now and then interrupped by spots of lingering darkness.
"I want you to understand, that as much as we all love Harry, as much as we must try to protect him, it is not he who will save us all." The old wizard's almost became a sigh. "It is love. Not simple. Never easy. And still, the only hope we have."
For a moment there was only silence, while the flames burned and threw their warm light onto the Headmasters face. Claire saw there were tears in his eyes, and she reached out to press his hand.
He smiled gently and turned to face the darkness beyond the circle of light.
"Soon, Tom," he said very softly. "It will be over soon."
Like a vision he dissapeared from their eyes, leaving Claire und Sirius sitting on the stairs.
Still in awe of what they had just witnessed, Claire let her head sink onto Sirius' shoulder.
"Love," she said calmly. "He is right. It is the only thing that counts. I'll remember that when you are gone. And I want you to know that I'll always love you. Whatever the future brings."
"That's what we need to talk about." Sirius rose from the stairs and stood in front of her. "You understand, that I can't endanger you and the baby. If Voldemort ever finds out you are still in contact with me …"
She stiffled a sob. "I know. It's only that I wish so much you could stay."
He drew in a big breath, as if he needed to gather all his courage. Then he went down on one knee and took Claire's small hand in his.
"I never proposed to you," he said.
She smiled tearfully. "No, you didn't."
"Claire, there may be a way to stay together." His eyes held hers capitive. "But I need to know if this is what you really want."
"Being with you?" She touched his cheek, dismayed at his doubts. "Would you let me come with you when you leave? I won't mind being poor, Sirius, I won't mind leaving everything behind. If only I can be with you."
Sirius put her hand to his mouth and gently kissed her open palm. Looking up at her, he cleared his throat.
"Claire Winterstorm," he said softly. "Will you be my Secret Keeper?"
Her tearstreaked face lit up until it beamed brighter than all the candles in the darkness. The look of unconditional love and fierce determination in her eyes made Sirius forget all his fears and doubts. He'd be with her and his child. They'd be together, save and whole. And he'd be home, in her heart, forever.
With infinite tenderness Claire cupped his face with both hands, and kissed his lips.
"Yes," she said. "I do."
* * *
Or not …
Well, I'd have to lie if I said I liked Sirius when I first read about him in "PoA". I mean - Severus was like a lightning bolt, and Remus … Who would not love Remus?
I was not even sure if it was a good idea to let him show up in "Whole again - Severus". But then he did something very Sirius-like. He took charge. He became a person where I only meant him to be an extra in the background.
Let me take a moment to thank you all. I enjoyed your reviews so much! I learned a lot in the course of writing this story. Thank you also for correcting - or ignoring - my awkward grammar and my spelling mistakes.
If I'd write this in German it would be a lot easier - but you probably would not read it …
Anyway, I loved writing "Whole again - Sirius" - and since I am not good at letting go, and I made some fictional characters miserable without saving them, there will be a third story - about Serene and Remus.
Whatever happens on the way there - I believe in happy endings.