The next few days that passed were seemingly uneventful, unless one counted Harry’s hearing which turned out to be a big event once he and Mr. Weasley returned… cleared of all charges! Rose had been very happy to hear the good news; and even if she didn’t quite understand why Fred and George along with Ginny kept chanting ‘He got off, he got off...’ it certainly did make her laugh. That happened almost a week ago, and since then, it was not lost on the little girl that although Sirius had initially appeared happy for Harry as well… he now seemed to be spending most of his time with Buckbeak. Not that he wasn’t taking care of her at all, no. Rose knew that Sirius was speaking to her more than anyone else and he had practically moved her belongings to his room which they now shared together; she just didn’t know what exactly was bothering him… until she accidentally stumbled upon Harry, Ron and Hermione having a talk amongst themselves on the third floor as they were cleaning.
Rose had just finished her share of work, helping Tonks and Ginny with some clothes troubles and was on her way to see Sirius when she heard voices from a nearby bedroom. It wasn’t her intention to listen in on the conversation but the tone of Hermione’s voice and the mention of Sirius’s name did the trick.
“Don’t you go feeling guilty Harry! You belong at Hogwarts and Sirius knows it.” Hermione sounded a bit stern as she spoke, “Personally, I think he’s being selfish.”
“That’s a bit harsh, Hermione… you wouldn’t want to be stuck inside this house without company.” Ron said in reply, countering her statement and Rose couldn’t help but linger by the doorway as she listened.
“He’ll have company!” said Hermione a little too loudly, “It’s headquarters to the Order of the Phoenix, isn’t it? And he has Rose to think of now. He just got his hopes up that Harry would be coming to live here with him.” At the mention of her name along with Harry’s, Rose finally understood everything about Sirius’s moods and was about to leave before someone noticed her, but when Harry spoke up just then, she stopped to hear what he had to say.
“I don’t think that’s true. He wouldn’t give me a straight answer this time round when I asked him if I could.” Harry’s voice was much more softer but Rose was able to hear him clearly.
“He just didn’t want to get his own hopes up even more.” Hermione started to say, “And he probably felt a bit guilty himself, because I think a part of him was really hoping you’d be expelled. Then you’d both be outcasts together.” Based on Hermione’s words, the only thing that Rose could think of was that Hermione seemed to have answers to everything about this.
“Come off it!” Harry and Ron said together at the same time and Rose jumped a little; hearing how both the boys spoke startled her momentarily and yet, she remained rooted to the spot, curiosity getting the best of her without even realizing it.
“Suit yourselves. But sometimes I think Ron’s mum is right, and Sirius gets confused about whether you’re you or your father, Harry.” Hermione said at last, after a brief pause.
“So you think he’s touched in the head?” Harry asked her, still seemingly angry, making Rose wonder what that meant.
“No, I just think he’s been very lonely for a long time.” Was all Hermione would say on the matter before falling silent again.
It was at the exact moment did Rose hear footsteps on the staircase, heading her way; the noise prompted her to quickly hurry on to where she had intended to go all this time… to see Sirius… and yet, once again, she found herself hesitating for a second. She didn’t have an opportunity to really let the words sink in, but from what she had gathered, Sirius was lonely, he did not want Harry to go back to the school but would not say anything about it to anyone?
“Hello Rose!” Fred, who had just apparated only a few feet away with George, called out to her just then.
“How are you this fine day?” George asked, before Rose got a chance to say something.
“I’m okay. How are you?” She asked the twins in return.
Seeing the two of them suddenly gave her an idea; if what she had heard the other night at dinner from Lupin was true, then maybe it was possible that Rose knew how to help Sirius.
“Couldn’t be better I say.” This was most likely George who spoke now; Rose still wasn’t exactly sure how to tell the Twins apart.
“Is there anything we can do for you?” The second twin, Fred most likely, asked her as he caught the look on her face.
“I need chocolate.” She said to them simply, remembering Ron saying that they always had chocolates on them wherever they went.
“Ah, well you’ve certainly come to the right place if you’re looking for chocolate.” Rummaging around in his robes, one of the twins searched for his stash, but came up empty handed; it was his brother who had a handful of almost everything hidden carefully.
“Now then Rose, do you know what kind of chocolate are you looking for?” There were little pockets inside the robes and each of them was stuffed with candy. “We’ve got all kinds from Honeydukes - Acid Pops, Bertie Botts Jelly Beans, Chocolate Frogs, a pack of Drooble’s, Fizzing Whizbees, Ice Mice?” He named all of the items he had, pointing to where they were stored, “How about some Licorice Wands? Sugar Quills, Toffee, Treacle Fudge!” And that was that.
“Just chocolate.” Rose, who had been trying not to stare and laugh in amazement at how organized everything was, repeated her request.
“She means plain ol’ chocolate you git!” Smacking the other’s head just a little, Fred caught on to what it was that Rose needed.
“Oi, watch it! Who’re you calling a git eh?” Rubbing his head, George feigned being hurt before turning back to Rose as he pulled out a big colorful wrapping of chocolate and handed it to her. “Sorry about that Rose… here you are, one bar of Honeydukes Best Chocolate, you’ll be feeling happy in no time with that!” He added emphatically.
“Really?” Unable to help herself from smiling brightly when she heard that, Rose took a moment to tell the twins that this was appreciated. “Thank you!”
“It was our pleasure. We’ll see you around!” Both Fred and George gracefully bowed down as they spoke at the same time and waved goodbye.
With another crack, the twins had disapparated away as quickly as they had arrived. Rose was a little surprised, but also used to seeing both Fred and George constantly doing this every chance they got and it always brought a smile to her face. However, without forgetting what the plan was, she hurried on ahead. In a few minutes time, Rose was standing outside Buckbeak’s room as she so often found herself lately; Sirius had to be there for she hadn’t seen him anywhere else in the whole house, this was the one place where he could have his privacy. And as she quietly entered, Rose was met with a lovely surprise.
“Ah, there you are love!” Sirius said, noticing her instantly, “Just in time too don’t you think?” He was standing by the entrance with his arms crossed, watching the Hippogriff from a safe distance.
Staying by the door and behind Sirius, Rose peeked around him and noticed Buckbeak who was standing up tall and majestic, with his wings spread out wide. The bedroom had been magically altered just enough so that there would be plenty of space for the Hippogriff to be able to move around a little whenever need be; this was the first time that both Rose and Sirius had seen Buckbeak at his fullest height together. He didn’t do this very often, owing to the fact that he was also staying hidden for his safety, but once in a month, it did him some good.
“He’s so big.” Rose whispered, not realizing when she had reached out to grab Sirius’s jacket as she watched Buckbeak in awe.
“Yes he is.” Nodding in agreement, Sirius didn’t need to look back at Rose as he took her hand in his; the Hippogriff had already finished eating for the day and would soon settle down into a deep slumber. “We should let him sleep.” He said just then.
For a moment, Rose wondered if that meant they were going to leave and head downstairs to Sirius’s room… she hadn’t quite gotten used to referring to it as her room yet; but she was surprised when he tugged her hand to draw her closer into the room. Buckbeak was just about finished stretching his wings and on turning his head to look in their direction, Rose tried her best not to get too scared. The idea was for Sirius and her to take turns in bowing down in front of the Hippogriff as they had done before… even though he was used to them, Buckbeak bowed his head as well… and after that, it was time for a long nap while Rose followed Sirius to the other end of the room where she sat down on the windowsill with her legs tucked in. She had a few minutes to watch him now; he had fallen silent which she didn’t mind at all, because it also gave her the opportunity to think about what she’d heard earlier.
As Rose understood it, Sirius was not completely happy about Harry going back to Hogwarts whenever the time came. And though she also knew that he wouldn’t be alone in the house since she lived there now, there remained one fact which wasn’t hard for her to understand - Sirius hadn’t known her for as long as he’d known Harry. So, the least she could do, was try and make him feel a little less sad; which is why Rose had carefully hidden her newly acquired chocolate bar inside the jacket she was wearing.
“Are you okay love?” Sirius suddenly asked her, before she could get a chance to speak up first.
He had managed to sense that Rose was in deep thought about something; he picked up on her being very soft-spoken within the first few days, but because of spending so much time when it was just them, Sirius felt as if he slowly… started to become more attuned towards her.
“Yes, I’m fine.” Rose didn’t know whether it was better to first ask Sirius about his moods or just simply offer the chocolate to him without saying anything.
“Rose…” There was that change in his voice which she noticed when he called her by name. “You know that you can tell me anything right?” He said, turning away from the window.
“I know. I am okay.” She replied again, and decided on what she wanted to do. “I… umm… I got this… for you.” Reaching inside the pocket, Rose carefully took the bar of chocolate out and handed it over to him.
“Honeydukes Best Chocolate.” Sirius almost instinctively knew why, when he saw what it was. “Thank you, love.” He gave her a half-smile, which wasn’t much, but to her, it was a start.
“Chocolate makes you happy.” Rose stated, repeating the Twins’ words to Sirius and hoped this would really work.
“Is that so?” Once more, Sirius realized that if he didn’t have Rose by his side almost everyday, he wouldn’t be able to have a reason to try and smile a little more. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to try and see for ourselves won’t we?”
“Oh yes!” Her eyes lit up when she saw that Sirius was starting to open the chocolate already; if he ate some now then she would get to see for herself if he did feel happy.
Within moments, the two of them were busy munching on a piece of chocolate respectively and even though Rose was enjoying herself thoroughly, since she couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten something so tasty, her eyes were fixed on the man sitting across from her; from what she could tell, he didn’t seem any different once he had finished his share… but… Sirius did catch her staring at him and when she smiled innocently without saying a word, that was when Rose knew she was successful in her mission for he not only smiled back in return, it looked more like a big grin. Something he hadn’t done in days.
“Thank you Rose.” Sirius finally said; after spending most of the past week sulking, he truly was feeling better now and it was all because of her simple gesture.
“For what?” Tilting her head to one side, Rose hadn’t expected him to speak with such a soft tone.
“For making me smile again.” He admitted without hesitation, “I am very bad at trying to remember it myself, but when you brought me the chocolate because you wanted me to be happy, that is when I realized…” A pause was followed by a sigh before Sirius continued, “I need to be happy for me and for you.”
“I am happy… when you are happy.” It took her a few moments to find the right words to say, but Rose did mean what she finally said to him.
Their brief time of peaceful silence didn’t last very long… mere moments after, there was a knock on the door as it opened to reveal Lupin standing at the threshold, looking very concerned about something; there was a slight change in his manner that Sirius observed, not unlike how he had seen his best friend that night when he’d first met Rose, though this time, Lupin had a grim look on his face.
“Sirius, I was wondering if I could talk to you for a minute.” Walking across the room, past Buckbeak, Lupin didn’t wait to get an answer as he pulled up a chair from the table and sat down in front of Sirius and Rose.
“Alright. How can I help Remus?” Sirius noticed that there were no papers of any kind in Lupin’s hands and yet, it seemed that he knew what the topic of this conversation was going to be about.
There was a momentary pause when Lupin realized that Rose remained where she sat, glancing up at him but not saying anything yet. And seeing her then, this little girl who constantly seemed to be smiling and laughing whenever he saw her, as well as being able to make Sirius smile… Lupin faltered, as if unsure of wanting to say what it was; but it wasn’t uncertainty, it was a feeling of his heavy heart at being the one to deliver the new information he had just learned of.
“Well, it’s… perhaps we could talk about this, in private?” Lupin said slowly; he didn’t want to send Rose away, but he wasn’t sure what would happen if she stayed either.
“What is this exactly Moony?” His attention focused on Rose now, Sirius saw that she was still quiet but constantly looking back and forth at the two men.
“It has to do with the… investigation of what happened… with Thomas and Evelyn.” He was wringing his hands as he spoke and at the mention of her parents, Rose snapped her head up to stare at Lupin, “I have some information.”
“Whatever it is, you can say it here. Rose isn’t going anywhere.” Sirius said to Lupin as soon as he’d felt Rose’s hand reaching out to grab his; he knew she was scared, but after everything that they’d been through in these last ten days, she deserved to hear the news.
Nodding his head as he prepared to speak, Lupin did catch on to Sirius gently squeezing her hand as they exchanged a quick look; Rose did look worried, but this sign of having a small physical touch seemed to help her stay calm.
“What of my momma and daddy?” She asked, finally finding her voice, soft though it was… Rose wanted to know.
“Moody has taken up the responsibility of this case, with Dumbledore’s permission, even though he didn’t need it.” Lupin started to say, knowing Rose wouldn’t understand much at first, “He was trying to learn about Thomas and Evelyn’s Secret Keeper. To see if… the Witch or Wizard was the one who… may have given up their location.” He paused, already feeling the tension in the air around them.
This was an extremely delicate topic for both friends to be discussing. They each had a painful experience with what it meant to be a Secret Keeper; he had been determined not to let the situation affect him as much, but Lupin knew that even after all these years… the despair which Sirius felt had never truly dissipated; Still, right now, the focus had to be on the McKinnon’s and Rose.
“And did Mad-Eye find the… Secret Keeper?” Sirius asked after a beat.
He was caught up in the moment that he hadn’t realized his hands were trembling; not a lot, but because one hand was holding onto Rose, she felt it and placed her free hand on top of his.
“Yes. It was Lockhart.” Meeting his friend’s gaze, Lupin answered almost immediately, knowing what this meant.
“Gilderoy was their Secret Keeper?” This was surprising news to Sirius. From what he had learned about Evelyn and her family, he never expected to hear something like this.
“That’s what Mad-Eye confirmed when he went to St. Mungo’s.” Lupin said, before elaborating, “I don’t know how he did so, but it seems that after Rose was born, Evelyn reached out to her cousin once to ask him this favor and Gilderoy accepted. The Fidelius Charm was performed as well as the Tongue-Tying Curse which prevented him from revealing any information about Evelyn and her family. And because we know that he’s… permanently incapacitated, the secret has stayed with him even now.”
“Uncle Gil?” Rose suddenly spoke up, as if remembering a long lost memory.
“Rose? Do you… do you know your Uncle Gilderoy?” Sirius asked her, wondering if there was more to the story that she knew.
The little girl shook her head before answering, “No. I… I know about him. Momma used to tell me stories of Uncle Gil. I never saw him.” She said before asking a question of her own. “Momma said that he is sick now… is he okay?”
“Yes, yes. He’s fine, nothing to worry about.” Lupin reassured her before going on with his story. “There was another lead that Mad-Eye came across Sirius, one which had more questions than answers, but he isn’t giving up just yet.”
“What lead is this now?” Sensing the tone in Lupin’s voice, Sirius wondered what other surprises were left to be brought out into the open.
“Mad-Eye believes that… it may have been… Barty Crouch Jr. who found Thomas and Evelyn.” This was the difficult part to explain.
“How is that even possible?” Hearing that name, of all the people who could have posed a danger to any of them, Barty Crouch Jr. was the last person that Sirius would have thought of.
“Well… after what happened to him last year, Mad-Eye has been retracing Barty Crouch’s steps, trying to figure out where he went, the things he did while posing as Alastor Moody.” Lupin explained, “The timeline is a little tricky since we know that for almost a whole year, Barty was at Hogwarts before he being turned over to the Dementors two months ago.”
“Exactly, so he couldn’t have been responsible for what happened to Tommy and Evelyn.” Sirius said, thinking out loud; none of these things were making sense.
“Not directly, no.”
“Are you suggesting…?”
“That’s what we’re not sure about. It could be that just before he was caught, Barty may have passed on the information to the other… Death Eaters.” At this point, Lupin knew only what he had been told and everything else was simply conjecture.
“There must be something that Mad-Eye knows for sure. Why does he suspect Barty Crouch in the first place?” Sirius asked the question that he’d thought of as soon as he heard the name.
“From what Minerva told me,” Lupin said, revealing his source for the first time since this conversation began, “I know that someone claiming to be Alastor Moody met Thomas and Evelyn just before he started his term at Hogwarts last year… and since the Mad-Eye we know didn’t have any memory of this meeting, it had to have been sometime immediately after Barty ambushed him.”
“There is someone else we can ask about this.” A sudden worrying thought came to Sirius as he processed all of the information and realized one very important thing that neither he nor Lupin had brought up so far.
In that moment, the two of them turned around to look at Rose, almost at the same time; for her part, Rose didn’t understand what was going on until Sirius asked her a question.
“Rose, do you remember meeting Mad-Eye last year? Did he come to your house?” Sirius hoped that her answer would alleviate his fears, because if it had been Barty Crouch Jr. then he may have known the truth about Rose.
“The… old man with… one eye?” Rose did remember seeing the Wizard whom everyone referred to as Mad-Eye Moody, it was hard to forget someone who had a spinning, magical eye.
“Yes. He would have been there some time after your 3rd birthday… did you see them then?” Time was a tricky concept for children, Sirius had learned as much, but he knew when Rose’s birthday was which gave him a timeline of sorts.
“No. I don’t… no, I only saw him when I came here.” It took her a moment before she answered.
“Are you sure?” Lupin couldn’t help but ask, they needed to know that Rose’s existence was still kept secret from the rest of the world.
“I did not see him, but I did listen to his voice.” Rose said, as she tried to remember what had happened that night. “My Daddy was there, in my room and he said to me to be quiet… like a mouse… and to stay there till he came back.” She was able to recall this memory because now, looking back on it, the whole thing seemed to be very unusual. “Nobody came to the house. Only him… I listened to his voice, talking to Momma.” That’s all she knew.
“So he doesn’t know.” Sirius said, sounding relieved, “If Barty Crouch never met Rose while disguised as Moody, he couldn’t have known about her.”
“That’s what Mad-Eye wants to confirm without a doubt.” It was one last piece of news that Lupin had for Sirius.
“What do you mean?” Frowning at that, Sirius wondered if he understood what those words meant.
“He’s trying to find a way to get permission to see Barty in Azkaban. To make sure that he doesn’t know about Rose.” Lupin knew how it sounded, Barty Crouch Jr. was possibly dead by this time; after the Dementor’s Kiss had been performed, his body was taken back to the prison, he was no more than a mere shell of a man now.
“There’s one thing I still don’t understand.” Sirius started to say, “They were at home. With Rose. And if Gilderoy didn’t reveal the location to Mad-Eye then how did Barty find them? And why were Tommy and Evelyn outside of their house on the day of the attack?”
“Your guess is as good as mine Sirius. I don’t know if we’ll ever find out all the details, but Mad-Eye’s not going to rest until he learns the truth.”
And then there was silence once again, the mood around all three of them suddenly changed to an unknown sense of foreboding. It was possible that Barty Crouch Jr. had revealed only Thomas and Evelyn’s location to the Death Eaters who had attacked them and no one else knew about Rose; save for Dumbledore, Gilderoy Lockhart and now the Order. Even so, Sirius was more determined to make sure no one else would learn of a surviving McKinnon.
“Sirius…” Rose broke the silence just then, staring at him and thinking of so many things that she had heard but didn’t quite fully understand.
He didn’t give her a chance to say anything else, the fear that was building in his heart hadn’t gone away; without a word, Sirius pulled her close to him as he wrapped his arms around her in a hug. It surprised Rose a little but she hugged him back and decided nothing else was important as long as she knew he was there for her.
"I promise to keep you safe, love. No matter what happens." Sirius said at last in a calm tone; this was something he had to do - not because she was Marlene’s niece or because Thomas and Evelyn had left her in his care. Nor was it because Dumbledore might have expected him to, or even McGonagall - the one and only reason that mattered was because Sirius wanted to do everything he could to protect Rose.