„Where is he?“ Dora burst through the door to his living quarters without bothering to knock. Her hair was pure black for once and her Auror uniform was wrinkled as if she had thrown it on in a hurry. Which she probably had before storming to Hogwarts at three in the morning
Remus looked up at her heavily breathing form, at a loss for words. He had not even tried to go to bed, even though he had not slept in two days. His mind was in utter chaos, tired from the full moon that had just passed, and even more so from the all but impossible things that had taken course beneath it.
“Where. Is. He,” she asked again, pressing the words out between clenched teeth. He did not know whether she was upset or worried or – something else.
“Who?” he finally questioned tonelessly, not even trying to act innocent. It was more like he did not know the answer himself. Who was that man, indeed, who had escaped from Hogwarts and the dementor’s Kiss last night?
Dora deflated at his tired demeanour, and let herself fall into a chair next to him. “So he’s not a traitor after all?”
At his asking glance, she elaborated. “I read the report back in the Auror office. Someone told that Harry insists that Sirius is innocent.”
When she got only a noncommittal shrug in response, she asked impatiently, “And? Is he?”
“I don’t know,” there was a distinct kind of helplessness in Remus’ voice. “Yes. Maybe.” Their eyes met, and his were so desperate, they made her flinch as if burned. “I want him to be. But then – He was twelve years in Azkaban. I let him rot there,” Panic crept into his words. “I hated him.”
“You didn’t,” Dora interrupted him almost softly, laying a hand on his forearm. Ignoring his shocked ‘What?’, she continued. “You never hated him. You hated what he did and what he had become, but never what he was before. You couldn’t have.”
They stayed silent for a moment, Remus avoiding her gaze, staring out the window as if the night sky held all the answers he was searching for. Finally, he nodded.
“Because that would have meant that all the years before, all my life really, was a lie. Because then we never could have been the brothers we claimed to be.” It was a painful confession.
Dora cocked her head, “What happened?”
Remus took his time. “Peter is alive,” he then said and fell silent again as if that explained everything.
Somehow it did. Then again, it brought up a hundred, a thousand more questions. None of which they could answer – or even wanted to, in some cases.
“So it was him,” it was not a question, still her voice was laced with wonder and something akin to disgust. “So he took his queen and his son and told only his best friend where they were going to hide. But he was not the only one afraid, so this friend doubted and wavered and fell.”
Remus looked up in surprise, a faint smile playing on his lips. “You still remember that?”
“Of course. It was the first story you ever told me. When we promised we’d stay friends.”
That made him wince. He knew what happened to promises such like this. They would be torn apart by time and fears.
“They thought it was me.” A simple confession, opening up abysses and long-forgotten wounds.
“Then they were stupid,” Dora bristled, her narrowed eyes making clear that she would not apologize for talking ill of his dead friends. “You’re the most loyal person I’ve ever met.”
It amazed him time and again how utterly convicted she seemed of his goodness, how highly she spoke of him. And it was funny, really, how much he depended on her approval, how much this young woman’s friendship meant to him.
Before he knew what he was doing, he told her everything about that night mere hours – maybe an eternity – ago, somehow trusting that she would not turn away when she heard what he had almost done. What his carelessness could have done to Harry and his friends. Or that he had been willing to take a life so easily, no matter how serious Peter’s crimes might have been.
“So he escaped,” and the growl in her voice was meant for the rat, not her cousin. “It’s a shame I’m still in training and cannot be assigned to the team searching for Sirius. I could help him. I hope he’s smart enough to leave Britain.”
“You never know with Sirius,” somehow Remus found it in himself to chuckle, despite being dead tired and in emotional turmoil. “I might follow him,” he then offered, not really knowing himself where that thought came from.
She was not happy about that, but not surprised either. “The school year’s not yet over –“
He waved her argument away. “Snape will without doubt leak my condition to the school. I’d rather leave than be thrown out.” Despite being used to losing his jobs regularly, there was bitterness in his tone. Hogwarts had been his home all those years ago. Leaving yet again, and in shame at that, was painful.
“With Peter and Sirius alive, I might have a purpose again, other than trying to earn enough to get through another month. A life on the run doesn’t sound so bad when you’re not alone.”
Dora stayed silent at that. She knew her parents had offered him a home and money and a job more than once, but he had always been adamant on managing on his own. I don’t want charity, he had declared with that quiet determination of his that made it so hard to argue with him.
So instead of fighting, she simply stated, “You know you are keyed into my wards. So if the two of you need a safe place to catch your breath every once in a while, you know where to find me.”
Gratefulness shone in his eyes, causing her to shrug. “You are always welcome in my home,” she muttered.
They lounged into a companionable silence, only interrupted by Remus’ “It’s pretty late. Maybe you should go to bed?” and her noncommittal humming, after which they stayed right where they were, comfortable in each other’s presence.
The night was almost over anyway, and come morning they would have to fill the roles recent events had loaded onto them. Better to enjoy the peace while it lasted. Their storm was coming up fast.
Only after the sun had risen and the castle was slowly starting to wake did they get up, still tired, but more calm than before, like it was so often the case when they spent time together.
Dora opened her arms and held him close, transferring her invitation once more with something far more honest than words.
“Tell the mutt I want to meet him. I need to see for myself if he lives up to your stories.”
Remus laughed. “Don’t worry. He will even surpass them.”
Their first meeting began rather awkward.
Despite knowing how much time had passed, Sirius somehow expected to see his baby cousin as she had been before, painfully young and throwing a temper tantrum because she did not want to wear some dress her mother had laid out for her, or fighting mock-duels with him and the boys.
Instead she was all grown up and training to be an Auror, ready to go out and leave her mark on the world, eyeing him not with hero-worship but sceptical calculation.
At the same time, Dora struggled to recognize her jovial, handsome and always careless cousin in this haggard man with a gaunt face and haunted eyes, whose mouth had not laughed in years, and whose hands could not stop fidgeting nervously.
“Sirius,” she said slowly, probing how the name felt on her lips, how its bearer reacted to it.
“Tonks.” The ghost of a smile flickered over both their faces.
“You remember that, huh?”
“You made sure that no one could forget,” his toothy grin caused her to sigh dramatically, all the while trying to ignore how that gesture made his face look like a skull.
“I was a real terror, right?”
“My dear Dora,” Remus’ chuckle interrupted them from the doorway. “Don’t act all innocent, you still are a terror.”
The young woman cried out indignantly, making the two men laugh out loud. Remus stepped fully into the room, put a tea tray onto the table, and sat down next to Dora.
“You let him call you Dora?” Sirius asked, still smiling.
“It’s still Tonks to you,” she replied snootily. “I dare you.”
None of them would have admitted it aloud, but they were all glad that the almost choking tension, that had settled around them the moment Sirius had knocked on Dora’s door, had disappeared.
And while it would still take a long time until Sirius would be able to relax again, he at least stopped looking over his shoulder every couple of seconds as if expecting Aurors or dementors to jump out from behind the couch.
“How did Remus here convinced you that I’m innocent?” That last word seemed odd coming out of the escapee’s mouth.
He had cleaned up since Azkaban and his clothes were mostly whole, but he had still that starved, half-mad look of a caged man.
As if reading her thoughts, he chuckled hoarsely. “I know I don’t look the part.”
Dora shrugged, trying to look casual, but it was obvious she was uncomfortable. “He believed in you,” then, after glancing at her friend, she added, “Even though he had the most reasons not to. And I have come to trust him.”
Sirius watched them curiously, seemingly reading them, seeing beyond what they knew themselves. Then he leaned back, apparently satisfied, and smirked. “And why is that,” he asked like the cat watching the canary, getting ready for the kill.
Dora seemed oblivious to his smug demeanour, or at least she pretended to be. “We’ve been friends ever since –“ stopping herself abruptly, she changed course, although not before the reappeared light in her cousin’s eyes dimmed a bit. “He told me stories, and visited whenever he was in Britain. We exchanged letters when he was not. I –“
Smirk growing even wider, Sirius cut her rambling off. “And when are you going to tell your parents that you’re in love with your childhood friend? And he with you?”
Stunned silence settled around them as Dora turned a bright shade of red and Remus did his best to murder his friend with a withering glare. But none of them, Sirius noted with growing satisfaction, denied it.
“That will really be a –“
“What do you plan on doing next?” Dora stumbled over the words, voice slightly raised to drown him out.
She threw a glance towards Remus who was sitting stiffly, but took it as a good sign that he had not moved away from her. How could that mutt possibly know?
Looking back at Sirius, she realized with a strange mixture of victory and regret, that her question had brought out the shadows in his eyes again.
“Dumbledore,” he began reluctantly, his velvety voice disappearing back into whatever abyss he had found it in. “He wants me to reopen Grimmauld Place.”
The darkness in his tone, as well as Remus’ grim nod – which had thankfully dispersed the sudden awkwardness between them – surprised her. She knew that the ancestral London Estate of the Blacks was at Grimmauld Place and, according to her mother’s stories, it was not the most cheerful of places, but this air of hostility spoke of something worse.
When it was obvious that her cousin would not continue, she turned towards Remus, waiting impatiently for an explanation.
“After our fifth year,” he said slowly, giving their friend the chance to interrupt him. “Sirius was expected to do something he didn’t want, so he run away and vowed never to return.”
“What was it?”
A look passed between the two men. “My dear mother demanded that I remember my roots and join the Death Eaters,” Sirius chuckled humourlessly. “Naturally, I refused. But she was never one to accept a ‘no’. I left before she decided to use the Imperius.”
With his eyes seeing long-gone, far-away things, he added absentmindedly, “She always had a hand for the Unforgivables. Bella herself could have learned something from her Cruciatus.”
Dora did not know what shocked her more, that Walburga Black would use the Torture Curse on her own son – which should not surprise her, really, her family was known for insanity – or how casual Sirius spoke about it.
It made her heart roar inside her chest, reminding her once again why she had been sorted into Hufflepuff. But when she saw Remus clenching his hands next to her, she pushed away the need to jump up and crash something or, even better, find someone of her blood relatives and give them a good tongue-lashing and a taste of why the other Auror trainees were afraid of her temper.
Instead she lay her own hand on his, knowing that she had always been able to calm him down and spend some comfort.
“And Dumbledore expects you to go back there, why exactly?”
“The greater good, of course,” Sirius smiled darkly, with hardly concealed bitterness. “He is reinstating the Order of the Phoenix. And could there be a better symbol than having its headquarters in the home of one of our darkest families? But don’t worry, I should be used to being a prisoner in hell by now.”
Dora looked at him intensely. It was kind of true. He would be a prisoner, but she would be damned if she let him rot there and not do something to help him heal.
“You’re not alone,” she said.His gaze trailed down to where her hand was still laying on Remus’. “No,” he nodded, and his smile seemed to be more honest than before. “I am not.”