Tonks took a deep breath as she tiptoed across the corridor, making sure she made no sudden noises so as to cause any undue disturbances as had happened every other day or two. The carpet was soft underneath her feet and thankfully, this back door entrance did not have any umbrella stands which she could knock over; and yet, as soon as she stepped inside the hallway, there was a loud slamming of the front door which startled Tonks. She didn’t have a chance to react for as soon as the noise echoed throughout Grimmauld Place, there came the all too familiar and loudshrieking voice from somewhere close by.
“Filth! Scum! By-products of dirt and vileness! Half-breeds, Mutants, freaks, begone from this place! How dare you befoul…”
“Oh no you don’t!” This time, acting on her instincts, Tonks crossed the room in a few quick seconds as she approached the portrait of Walburga Black.
By now, she and the others were well aware of the fact that the only way to get her to stop screaming on top of her shrill lungs was to close the curtains shut immediately. It took several seconds of a struggle but with one big tug, Tonks was successful in her attempts and cut off the Black matriarch at last; taking a few deep breaths as she leaned against the wall, the young Auror thought that this was the only unexpected event of the morning, but little did she know… there was plenty more about to occur in the next minute. As if on cue, two heavy sets of footsteps were heard echoing from the above landing accompanied by loud voices, both of which she recognized instantly.
“Sirius!” Tonks exclaimed in surprise when she suddenly saw him hastening down the staircase, with Lupin close behind. “What…” She started to say but realized that the two men were in the middle of an intense discussion. Or were they arguing?
“This is madness Sirius! You can’t just risk exposing yourself to the world like this!” Lupin sounded worried more than angry, as he tried to stop his best friend from doing something dangerous.
“I know the stakes Remus… but it’s my fault… and I have to be the one to bring her back.” Sirius was adamant in his decision as he passed Tonks in the corridor, but not quick enough for she caught him by the hand.
“What is going on here Sirius? Where do you think you’re off to in such a hurry?” She didn’t know what was going on but since Molly and Arthur were still out, it fell to her and Lupin to keep an eye on Sirius until they returned.
“Rose has run off, you didn’t happen to see her on your way in did you?” Answering the question before Sirius could say anything, Lupin turned to Tonks, hoping that she could talk some sense into him.
“What? That little girl ran off on her own? When? What happened?” She understood now what that noise had been only a few minutes ago; she had arrived at the house a little too late to stop Rose from running away.
Tonks also knew that she wasn’t strong enough to hold Sirius but he wasn’t attempting to break free… yet. Silence fell amongst them for a long minute during which she was able to focus on Sirius and see the look on his face; whatever had happened with Rose, he had just admitted to it being his fault. He was fighting to bottle up all his emotions, but this… this was… risky to say the least.
"I said something... something that she heard thanks to those Extendable Ears lying around... and now she's run away because of that." Sirius explained to Tonks, hoping that she would let him go.
"So let Tonks and I organize a search party to find Rose." Lupin suggested, resting a hand on his friend's shoulder, "It's been only a few minutes, she couldn't have gotten far; we can find her." He knew that Sirius wasn’t thinking clearly.
"No. It's too dangerous..." That was all Sirius was able to say before Tonks cut him off.
"Sirius! You're still a wanted man! And there could be Death Eaters looking for you too... it's not dangerous for me to go out and find Rose. Let me help." She tried to reason with him.
"I know how dangerous it is for me, but I also know that the girl is my responsibility. She ran away because of me. And I know where to find her." Sirius realized he was being impulsive and even reckless but if something happened... no, he couldn't think like that.
"It's no use trying to stop you is there?" Lupin said at last, watching his best friend closely as he tried to make sense of what was going on in Sirius's mind.
"Nope, but I'll be back soon." It felt as if hours had already passed since Rose had run off but Sirius knew it hadn't been more than a quarter of an hour at the most.
"Be safe Sirius." Tonks finally relented too and let go of his hand.
"I will." And with that, Sirius changed into his animagus form, racing out the door as soon as it opened.
The good thing was that Sirius knew this area around Grimmauld Place better than anyone. It also helped that this particular day had been rainy, the grey clouds hung low and dark, making it easy for him to slip through the streets silently as he kept to the shadows.
It didn't take long for him to follow the scent of Rose he had picked up the previous night when she'd first met him in this form. Within a few minutes, the large black dog had found his way to a familiar old park that was abandoned and knew Rose was here. Entering the park, Sirius didn't have to go too far for he could see that there was a tiny figure lying on the wet grass under a big oak tree; a form that resembled Rose. Slowly and swiftly, the dog made its way to where she sat.
"Who's there?" Rose, who had been sitting with her head down, resting on her knees, looked up as soon as she heard a noise that startled her momentarily.
She hadn't thought things through when she ran out of the house; but when she saw Sirius standing only a few feet away from her, Rose was relieved. Her plan wasn't the best, she hadn't accounted for the rain which had soaked her completely from head to toe and on top of everything else, she had tripped on something which hurt her ankle and turned it red.
"Sirius?" She recognized him instantly and for a second was scared that he was mad at her, but when she saw him come closer and nudge her left leg, Rose realized that he had seen her injury.
A soft growl escaped from him as he touched Rose's ankle with a paw. There was nothing he could do here but he wasn't going to let Rose walk back home either.
"I'm okay, it's a small cut." Rose said, as if she knew what he was thinking. "I can walk." She told him and stood up shakily, but fell back down almost instantly.
Another growl from the dog told her that she shouldn't try standing again. Rose was tired and cold and hungry, so she simply nodded.
"What do I do?" She asked him, wondering how they would get to his house now.
In answer to her question, Sirius sat down on the grass and turned his head slightly toward his back. Rose watched him for a minute and then understood what his plan was; she stood up once more, as carefully as she could, leaning against the tree bark this time for support and gently used both her hands to climb up on to his back. The black fur under her fingers was soft and silky smooth... and once he started to walk out of the park, Rose soon found herself resting her head against his back, hands wrapped around his neck and closed her eyes.
Within minutes, Grimmauld Place came into sight once Sirius stood in front of the entrance; he could see Lupin waiting for them inside and once the doors opened, he slipped inside quickly, Rose still half-asleep on his back.
“What happened?” Lupin was surprised to see the young girl looking pale and cold as he lifted her in his arms, giving Sirius a chance to change back.
“She fell and hurt herself while running in the rain.” He finally said as he shook off the water from his robes, not bothering that he was soaking wet too as he took Rose from Lupin and carried her into the hall.
The moment Sirius walked inside, holding Rose, he noticed that Harry and Hermione had returned with the Weasleys and they were all waiting anxiously. As soon as they saw him, Harry jumped up from the chair, with Molly at his heels; from her expression, Sirius knew that she was not pleased at his decision to be the one who brought Rose back.
“Sirius! Are you… is Rose okay?” Harry asked his Godfather, sounding worried. He had just returned from Diagon Alley to find that Rose and Sirius were both nowhere to be found; but seeing the condition that she was in, he didn’t say anything else.
“I… I don’t know.” Sirius wasn’t paying attention to everyone hovering around the girl as he lay Rose down on the sofa, feeling her fingers clutching his shirt tightly. “I’m not sure. She hurt her ankle while running and she’s been out in the rain!”
He was worried, and with good reason; this wouldn’t have happened if he had just tried to… to talk to her directly, explain what she must have overheard him say...
“It wasn’t your fault Sirius.” Tonks began to say to him but he cut her off before she could finish.
“Yes. It was.” Was all he said, “I need to get her warm and changed into different clothes, can you help me?” Turning around to face Tonks for a moment, Sirius decided to move her upstairs to his bedroom where he could keep an eye on her.
“Yes, of course.” She replied and laid a hand on his shoulder, “She’s going to be fine.” If there was one thing Tonks knew she could do, it was to keep reminding Sirius of this fact.
Sirius couldn’t answer her in that moment even if he wanted to because Molly chose to finally speak; though her words were not what he had expected to hear.
“Make sure that you bandage up that ankle properly, I’ll go and get some soup ready for when she wakes up.” The sternness in her voice was unmistakable, but more than that, Molly sounded concerned for Rose than anything else.
“Molly…” Sirius was surprised to hear her words but she interrupted him with a knowing look on her face.
“We can talk about your reckless behavior later. Go, take care of Rose.” She said to him, and this time he knew that she meant it.
Unable to stop himself, Sirius did his best to hide the grin forming across his face; Molly may have been angry with him and there was certainly a lot he would be hearing about from her, but she knew that his main priority was Rose before anything else. Without wasting anymore time, he picked her up once more and walked with Tonks to his room. The two of them were silent for a few minutes as they worked to make sure that Rose’s leg was bandaged as well as her wet clothes replaced with something warm. Sirius waited with his back turned away from the bed as Tonks first took care of changing Rose into pajamas before taking over.
He removed his wand from within his jacket, pointed it just above the injured ankle and whispered a spell which would help Rose to heal, “Ferula.”
Sirius and Tonks both watched as a tiny splint and bandage immediately wrapped Rose’s ankle perfectly, not too tight and not too loosely, for she didn’t stir. Now that her main injury had been dealt with, there was only the matter of the slight fever she seemed to have developed; being carefully tucked under big blankets were keeping her warm, but Sirius couldn’t remember the when he had taken care of someone who was ill.
“Do you want me to…?” Tonks asked Sirius, and not for the first time was he grateful to have her here with him.
“Yeah… okay.” He replied with a nod and sat down on the edge of his couch to give Tonks enough space.
Sirius knew that Healing magic was something Tonks had more experience with and though he had just cast one spell, this next bit needed a lot more concentration and patience… if he did anything wrong, then Rose could end up getting worse instead of better. It didn’t take too long for Tonks to finish casting the spells which were required to recover from a bout of fever and when she was done, Sirius let out a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding.
“Rose should be better by the time she wakes up.” Coming to sit down beside Sirius, Tonks turned to look at him properly now, “She’s a strong girl..” She knew that there was so much more she wanted to talk to him about but started small.
“I know… you’ve always been pretty decent with Healing spells.” Sirius said, not tearing his gaze away from the bed just yet, he was going to stay and watch over Rose for the rest of the day if he had to.
Tonks seemed to have sensed this, she could be very observant when she wanted to and today was about being there for Sirius. They had only recently started to reconnect after spending so many years apart; it felt like yesterday that Tonks had seen him visiting her family - the fearless and brave 16 year old boy who chose to leave this place, find his place in the world on his own terms, being free, she wondered often if there were still signs of that Sirius Black somewhere inside the man that she saw now. He wasn’t free now, even though he had escaped one prison, she knew that coming back here to his ancestral house was no less than Azkaban for him… and there was also the fact of his innocence which hadn’t been proven yet. Tonks couldn’t even begin to imagine what he was going through but she could try.
“Remus told me what happened… before.” Tonks spoke up at last, knowing that she needed to initiate this conversation.
“So you know.” His voice was soft, but he did not turn around to face her just then; the words he had uttered, the words which most likely had been heard by Rose were still playing on his mind.
"Yes. I do." She didn't know exactly what Sirius was thinking of in that moment, but Tonks did have something to say. "I heard that you were named Rose's legal guardian." It was probably better to start with that instead of… other things.
Hearing those words again, Sirius couldn't help but let out a sarcastic laugh; he still didn't believe how that was even possible.
"There must be a mistake, no one in their right mind would make me anyone's guardian." He said, "I’m the last person Tommy should have considered; he had to have known that I'm a wanted man... I've spent twelve years..” Sirius trailed off, before changing his sentence, “She deserves better."
"Have you thought of the possibility that maybe Tommy McKinnon believed you were innocent?" Tonks didn't wait before she spoke, knowing this was a delicate topic Sirius never discussed.
"Why would he think that?" Sirius didn't quite understand where Tonks was going with this train of thought. "Tommy and I weren't close friends... I never saw him after that... that summer." He said, referring to the last time he had spent with Marlene and her family.
"That is true, but you are forgetting one important thing Sirius." Still looking at him to gauge his reaction, Tonks went on before he could ask her anything. "I was just a kid when I heard what happened to you... but when I reached Hogwarts, that was the time I learned almost everything I could about you. The stories I heard, of you and James, two best friends who were as brothers... all the pranks you played together, all the things you accomplished with each other's support, I heard it all. And more from my mother whenever I came home. And I believed, with all my heart, that someone so loyal and caring as you were towards James and Lily, couldn't have been responsible for what happened." Tonks suddenly stopped, feeling her eyes watering, forgetting what she wanted to say.
Her abrupt silence combined with the honesty in her words made Sirius finally look to her. And though he didn't know what to say in reply, Tonks wiped away the unshed tears and picked up from where she had left off.
"If I could believe that you were innocent then I'm sure Tommy McKinnon believed too." She knew it sounded like nothing more than a guess, but at least it was something.
"And how would that come about exactly? He never had the chance to attend Hogwarts like the rest of us." Sirius pointed out the main problem in her theory, though he was glad to hear Tonks trying.
"Evelyn. She could have told Tommy; from what little I remember about her, I'm sure..." Tonks had an answer to this question but Sirius didn’t let her finish explaining herself.
"Wait. Did you just say that you knew Evelyn? As in... Evelyn Lockhart?" He interrupted her, wondering what else Tonks knew and hadn’t mentioned to him or anyone else for that matter.
"Yes, is there any other Evelyn that we've been talking about?" Frowning at him, Tonks hadn’t realized that she had not brought this up before; then again, now was the only time she did have the chance to tell someone.
"No... but why did you not say anything about this before?" Sirius knew that Tonks would have heard Evelyn’s name the previous night when Lupin discussed it with her and everyone else.
"I didn't know her personally... it's not like we were friends. By the time I joined Hogwarts, Evelyn was already in her Fifth Year." She finally managed to get the words out, not letting Sirius cut through again.
"So you didn't know her." It was simply an observation on Sirius’s part, but in spite of all these vague and uncertain points, he didn’t feel as bad as he had earlier.
"Well, we were both in Hufflepuff... she was a prefect, I was a First Year... I knew of her more than anything." Tonks specified and came back to the point she had been trying to make, “Look, all I’m saying Sirius, is that both Tommy and Evelyn could have had very good reasons for naming you as their daughter’s guardian. Whether they believed in your innocence or they just hoped that you would be able to keep her safe, we will never know why; what matters now is honoring their last wishes… right?” She could be very direct when she wanted to and Sirius could see that.
“Did you know that they named her after Tommy’s sister?” Sirius didn’t answer anything that Tonks had just said to him, but rather chose to mention the one piece of information which he hadn’t shared with Lupin nor McGonagall.
Without saying anything else, Sirius handed the letter over to Tonks for her to read.
"Oh." Was all that she could say after skimming through the letter and seeing it for herself.
"Marlene Rose McKinnon." He whispered, "That's her legal birth name; they used to call her 'Marlene Rose' at first but after a while she started responding to only 'Rose' and both Tommy and Evelyn realized it was better. Safer."
“I suppose.” Tonks waited to hear what Sirius was going to say next.
“She ran away because of me; because of what I said, and if I hadn’t… then she would be okay right now. If I can’t keep her from running away, how am I supposed to raise her?” Sirius finally started to open up.
“What happened with Rose today wasn’t your fault, it was more a miscommunication than anything.” It wasn’t lost on Tonks to notice that apart from the one time Sirius had used her full name, he hadn’t called her ‘Rose’ all along, “And we don’t even know what she heard to make her run away; she could have just been scared of something.” She tried to reassure him, hoping that he would stop blaming himself.
“I just… I don’t want her to feel alone or unwanted or unloved; even before I knew who she really was, I did want to help her, but now I feel that I’ve already failed Tommy and Evelyn. And Marlene.” The sadness in his voice was apparent, but Sirius wasn’t giving up hope, he just didn’t know if he had any left.
“You haven’t failed anything Sirius… all relationships start off with a bump here and there.” Tonks reached out to touch his shoulder again, “I never said that I stopped believing in you, you know? I have faith that you and Rose can figure this out… together. Talk to her when she wakes up.” She suggested.
“Thank you, Dora.” Sirius said to Tonks, “I know I don’t say the words enough but I do mean it.” He was even able to give her a half-smile.
“You’re very welcome, Siri." Grinning widely as she stood up to leave Sirius with his own thoughts, Tonks decided to try her hand at making Sirius feel better; it was an innocent remark and had an instant reaction.
“No, no. Don’t do that… don’t call me that… please.” This time around, Sirius sounded more taken aback and a little embarrassed rather than upset or angry; he made a face when he heard his infamous nickname. He had never liked it but still appreciated Tonks's attempt to cheer him up.
Tonks didn’t give any indication that she heard Sirius for she had left by then; he did hear her soft laugh as the door closed, leaving him to focus his attention on Rose. Walking over to the bed, Sirius sat on one side and gently touched her forehead to check her temperature, which seemed to have dropped slightly. Throughout the whole time that had passed, she remained asleep and already had some color returning to her cheeks… it was a good sign and he felt relieved already. Now was the time to watch over her and wait until she woke up.