Chapter 40

A/N: Hello wonderful readers! Despite what you may have thought, I have not, in fact, fallen off the face of the Earth! Work kidnapped me for a while, and then my Muse decided to take a trip to Tahiti or other parts hitherto unknown. She didn't even bring me back a lousy t-shirt back! But no matter, she has returned and I have escaped the real world's eveil clutches for a little while, so onward we proceed with the story! Thanks for all of your patience and your continued interest.

Chapter 7

I decide to take a detour to visit with Alice and Frank Longbottom, even though I am not scheduled to treat them again until next week, before heading back to Hogwarts. I do truly care about the pair of former Aurors, but I am honest with myself enough to know that I am also stalling going back in case Severus still hasn't responded to my Patronous. That, and I also need to thinkabout Minerva's offer. If it wasn't for Severus, I wouldn't even hesitate to sign up. I know it will be dangerous, possibly even deadly, but if I can contribute to the downfall of that madman and help make a safer world for people like Leo then it would be worth the sacrifice. Unfortunately, joining Albus' group would be in direct violation of Severus's one request of me to stay off Voldemort's radar. Am I willing to risk any future I might have with Severus? I've dreamed my entire life of being with him, can I realy risk that?

Lost in my dilemma, I don't even realize where my feet have automatically taken me until I push open the door to the staff break room. I guess old habits die hard! Suddenly, I realize that I am not alone as I spot two men arguinq quietly in the corner of the room. To my surprise, one of them is Remus. I am about to greet him and ask what in the world he is doing in the break room, when I take notice of the second man in the room. He is a little taller than Remus, gauntly thin, with scraggly long black hair, and distinct grey eyes that are a trademark of the Black family.

Holy shite! It's Sirius Black! The mass murderer! The man who sold out the Potters and caused Lily's death! The person who cost me my chance with the love of my life back in school!

My wand is out before I even realize it as the seething anger takes over my rationale brain. "Don't fucking move!" I shout, garnering the attention of both the men. I see both of their eyes widen and a look of horro blooms on Remus's face.

"El," he starts, with his hands held out in a placating manner.

"Don't worry, Remus, I've got him covered. Go tell Security. They'll get the Aurors to come arrest this piece of scum," I growl, wand trained on Sirius Black's aged, yet still classicly handsome, face.

"No, El, you don't understand," he prevaricates, looking at me imploringly now and making no moves to go get help. Suddenly, it dawns on me.

"No way! I thought Severus was just blinded by his past with you, but he was right, wasn't he? You're actually working with this arsehole! Remus, how could you? He killed Lily and James! He orphaned Harry! He is a bloody minion of the Dark Lord!" I shout.

"He's not, El. Please, just lower your wand and we'll explain."

"Lower my wand?" I laugh a bit histerically. "Yeah, sure, I'll do that. I'll lower my wand as I stand alone in an out of the way room with a Death Eater and his lying accomplise. I'm sure that will end well."

"We're not going to harm you," a raspy, unfamiliar voice chims in. I am surprised to realize that Sirius Black sounds perfectly sane. I honestly would have thought he would be a raving madman after so many years in Azkaban. "I know this looks bad, but I did not kill anyone. I was sent to Azkaban without a trial and was locked up for a crime I didn't commit for twelve years. The whole world thinks I sold out my best friends and that I am loyal to a maniac who believes in everything I despise!" he says with increasing urgency.

"It's true," Remus adds imploringly. "I know its hard to believe, but Sirius is innocent."

I can't help but scoff at this, thinking of all the cruel pranks he played on Severus in our school years, and, of course, how he ruined my chance with the love of my life and it took nearly twnenty years to get a second chance! Innocent, my arse!

Black must understand my disbelief because he cuts right to the heart of the matter. "Ok, I'm not innocent in terms of general disposition or track record of behavior, but I am innocent of being a Death Eater and I am innocent of selling out my friends and murdering a bunch of Muggles! I wasn't the Secret Keeper! I know I was an arse in school, but do you really think me capable of killing someone, let alone my best friends?"

I try to think about it objectively, as I was taught throughout my entire Healing curriculum, shoving my personal hatred for the man aside. The Sirius Black I knew was a toerag, but he was always exceedingly loyal to his friends. I remember that he seemed to loathe his little brother because of his pureblood ideals, and he often accused all Slytherins of being Death Eaters. He seemed to use that as justification for his mistreatment of them. Given that, it does seem unlikely that he would become a Death Eater himself.

"Ok, so for arguments sake, let's say I believe you – and I am NOT saying that is the case, but for the sake of the scientific method, tell me your side of the story. A wave of relief passes through Black's steel gray eyes and I notice a tightness in his shoulders loosen a bit. He then regales me wih a tale of unregistered animagi, switching secret keepers, and a lying little rat. When he is done, he looks at me imploringly and I can practically hear him begging me to believe him. It's a far-fetched tale, that's for sure, but is it any more far-fetched than thinking James's best friend, who walked away from a life of wealth and privledge because he disagreed with his parents' blood purity beliefs, would turn to Voldemort?

"Do you have any evidence?" I ask, and he deflates.

"Unfortunately, no," Remus answers. We had Peter detained but…it was the full moon and I…I forgot my Wolfsbane"

"It wasn't your fault," Sirius interjects as the weight of guilt clearly begins to crush Remus.

"Yes, it was!" he growls. "If I hadn't been so stupid you would have made it back to the castle with Peter and you would be free right now, not trapped as a prisioner in a house you hate, forced to stay in your dog form all the time, and utterly miserable!"

"You're not stupid! You were under a ton of stress and-"

"Not to cut this argument off, but someone could come in here at any moment and I doubt they'd give you the benefit of the doubt long enough to hear you out." I interrupt, knowing that the shift change will be coming in a few minutes.

"Shite, she's right," Remus sighs. "El, I know this is a lot to ask, but I hope that over the past few months we have built up a degree of trust, so I'm asking for you to really trust me now, and let me apparate you somewhere that we can talk safely."

Every neuron is screaming at me not to go with them, I'm not really going to be that bimbo in every horror movie who hears a weird noise in the dark and goes TOWARDS it, am I? And yet, my illogical gut is fighting those smart little neurons. Damn it, my traitorous feet seem to be siding with my stupid gut! Why am I walking towards the convicted murderer?

"Alright, I'll go with you," I hear myself say, "but if this is a trap you can bet your hairy arse that I will haunt you incessantly and tell everyone your dirty little secret," I threaten, getting right up in Remus's face to make sure he understands.

Surprisngly, I hear a rusty chuckle from next to me. I turn to see hardened criminal Sirius Black chuckling and smirking at the two of us.

"I'm glad to see you haven't lost your spark, Bradford," he says with a mischevious twinkle in his eye. "Now let's get out of here before I end up in the pound."

Remus rolls his eyes indulgently as his friend…"holy shite!" I exclaim as the 6' tall man suddenly shrinks and morphs into a big black dog.

"Sirius!" Remus hisses chastisingly at the dog, who just looks up at him with innocent eyes, tongue lolling out.

"Wait…he? You? Your dog is…" I stutter, unable to get all of my thoughts together. There have been way too many surprises in the past few minutes. Suddenly, one thought coaleses into horrifying clarity. "UGH! He licked me!" I shout in disgust, thinking of Sirius Black, of all people, putting his tongue on my face!

"I know, but we really have to go now. You can hit him with a newspaper when we get home," Remus says urgently, grabbing tightly to my arm as he placed his other hand on the dog's back. Suddenly, the familiar feeling of apparition pulls at my navel and after a disconcerting moment or two, we reappear on the side of a city street. A row of imposing brownstones lines the road, speaking to a neighborhood of wealth and refinement. I would be lying if I didn't admit I was confused. Based on Remus's wardrobe and thrifty habits, not to mention his affliction that iniquitously restricted his emplyment options, I always assumed Remus was…well, poor.

"This is your home?" I ask, my perplexion clearly coming through.

"No, not mine," he replies with an exaggerated nod towards the black dog at his side. "And this isn't exactly his house, either. His house is hidden. You won't be able to see it until we show you the address," he explains as he hands me a folded up, slightly worn piece of paper.

I take it cautiously and pier at the flowing, neat script on the scrap of paper. To my astonishment, it reads: 12 Grimmauld Place, Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix.

"Order of the Phoenix?" I gasp, realizing that is the very same group that Minerva asked me to be a part of earlier that very same day.

"Yeah, it's a…well, it's a long story," Remus replies as 10 Grimmauld Place and 14 Grimmauld Place seem to stretch apart, revealing another brownstone between them. "Let's get inside; we can talk about everything there."

Once inside, my hackles rise and I start to think that my idiotic gut has lead me into a deadly trap after all. This place looks like the house from "It" and I am bracing myself for a giant creepy clown to pop out from the end of the dark, dank ahllway. I guess my opinion must show because Sirius, who has effortlessly turned back into a man now, nods in sympathy.

"It's a shitehole, I know, but its been abandoned for a decade and my twisted parents had a collection of Dark artifacts that kind of just took over the place unchecked after they died. We've just managed to get most of the truly dangerous stuff out recently, but now that that is done, we can hopefully start cleaning this place up," he explains with a halfhearted shrug.

"You realize bringing me here to convince me you aren't an evil murderer is about as effective as bringing a cow to a slaughterhouse, right?"

"And yet you aren't running away," Sirius replies with an edge of challenge in his voice.

"I've never been a very good runner," I answer with matching gusto. "If I wanted to leave I'd just curse you and leisurely walk right out that door."

"Ok, ok, let's focus," Remus interjects before anything escalates. "I'm going to make some tea while Sirius tells you the rest of his story. Please, try not to kill each other while I'm in the kitchen."

Awkward silence descends as I stare at Black's haunted gray eyes, waiting for him to say something. When it becomes clear that he doesn't know where to begin, I decide to ask the question that has been simering in my mind since we arrived. "So, are you and Remus members of the Order of the Phoenix?"

"What? How do you know about the Order?" he asks suspiciously.

"Well, for one, it was on the parchment with the address of this place," I respond easily, which seems to make him relax. "Secondly, Minerva asked me to join it just before I happened upon you two at the hospital."

His deep black eyebrows climb up in surprise, but after a moment relief seems to wash over him. "That's great, it makes this easier. Remy and I are both members, and the Order all know that I am innocent."

"They all just believe you, without any evidence?"

"It's hard to argue when Albus Dumbledore is the one vouching for you," Sirius answers with a resigned sigh.

"Isn't that a good thing?" I ask with an edge of confusion.

"Yeah, and I'm grateful for it, but I'd prefer if everyone knew and accepted the truth. Some days I can't help but wonder if I actually escaped Azkaban at all. Being cooped up in this awful, Dark house day and night while my friends and Godson are out there risking their lives seems like a Dementor induced torture to me," he reveals despondently. Suddenly he seems to shake it off, though. "I have no idea why I said all that," he laughs awkwardly. "You don't even know me for Merlin's sake and here I am pouring out my soul."

"It was a little weird," I confirm with a smirk to let him know I don't hold it against him. Merlin help me, but when he shows his vulnerable side like this, I can almost forget what an arrogant wanker he was all throughout school.

Remus chooses that moment to cautiously re-enter the room, levitating a tea tray in front of him. "Here you go, Darjeeling for you, Sirius, and coffee for you, El."

"Get this, Remy, El is going to join the Order!" Sirius exclaims excitedly.

"You are?" the werewolf asks me. "You told her about the Order?" he turns on Black before I can reply. "Umm, look El, its not that I don't think you'd be an invaluable addition to the group, it's just that we don't actually have the authority to induct new members. We're not even supposed to be talking about it with outsiders," he says with a chastising glare at his friend.

"I didn't tell her about it, Moony, she already knew. Minne invited her to join, just today as a matter of fact!"

"She did?" Remus asks me, with an indescernable expression on his face.

"Yes, she did. However," I contine, pointedly turning towards Black, "I haven't decided if I am going to join or not."

"What? Why wouldn't you join? Haven't you devoted your life to helping curse victims? You do realize a good portion of those victims were probably cursed by Death Eaters, right?" Black exclaims incredulously.

"Sirius, don't badger her," Remus rebukes, sounding like I imagine he did when he was a Professor.

"I'm not badgering her, I just don't understand! Why would someone whose devoted her entire life to doing good not want to do everything they can to stop the biggest evil there is?" Black answers, getting more and more agitated.

"I do want to help," I explain, "but this kind of a decision isn't one to entered into lightly. There are consequences, as I would think you of all people would know. You lost 12 years of your life to Azkaban because of your duties to this Order and your fight against the Dark Lord. Your friends have died, kids have grown up without parents, Sev-some people have sacrificed their entire lives and given up any chance of happiness for years for this group."

I see Remus's eyes widen and I know he caught my little slip up where I almost mentioned Severus by name, but thankfully it seems, like most things, to have gone straight over Black's head.

"Yeah, and it is all worth it if it brings the slimy bastard down!" Black roars, now out of his chair, tea long forgotten. "Funny, all the times Remus raved about you he never mentioned that you were a coward," he growls.

"Hey, hey, that's too far, Sirius," Remus asserts, getting in between us. I barely hear it, though, as red hot fury clouds my mind.

"You're calling me a coward? Oh that's rich! Coming from the bloody prat who bullied kids all through school just so he could try to feel like he had some self worth. Who hid behind odds like 4 to 1 when he attacked Slytherins, often from behind, and totally unprovoked! Is that how a hero is supposed to act, huh Black? Cursing people in a house you don't like just to desperately prove that you aren't like your family? Hiding behind your red and gold robes to conceal the fact that inside you're nothing but a scared, resentful little boy who was upset that his Mummy and Daddy liked his brother more?"

"Why you little bitch!" Black roars, hurlin his teacup at me as I hastily put up a Protego.

"That's enough!" Remus roars at a deafening volume, channeling every little bit of the wild wolf he keeps concealed every day. "You are both out of line. Like it or not, we are all on the same side here, and hurling insults at one another isn't going to help anyone! Now both of you SIT DOWN this instant!"

With a resentful glare at Black I slowly take a seat, knowing that even outside of a full moon, werewolves can do some serious damage if they are pushed too far. Black does the same, though I notice he is more perched on the edge of the chair than actually sitting.

"Good," Remus says, trying to regain his calm, "now we'll have no more fighting. Sirius, it is El's decision whether or not she wants to join the order and its none of our business why she decides whichever way she does. You should just be grateful that she han't turned you into the Ministry. And El, I know why our past actions affect you so much, but if we are going to be friends, and if you do decide to join the Order, you can't keep flinging the past in our faces. We all made mistakes, but we have to focus on the present now if we hope to have any chance of surviving the war that is coming. All right?" he asks, looking mildly pleading at both of us.

"Fine," Black huffs, crossing his arms but settling more fully into the armchair he is perched upon,

"All right," I agree with a sigh. "I'll try to leave the past in the past…and I won't tell anyone I saw you," I add, turning towards Black.

"Thank you," he mutters somewhat grudgingly.

"If that is all, I have to be heading back to the school," I explain, wanting nothing more than to find Severus and talk about all the things that have happened in the course of this insane day.

"I'll walk you out," Remus offers, speling the broken teacup back together and sending the remaining items to the kitchen.

"I'm going upstairs," Sirius announces a bit despondently, earning only a nod from Remus in reply.

The walk to the the door is quiet, but once we are out on the stoop Remus releases a deep sigh. "I'm sorry about him; he's just so frustrated being stuck in this place. As I'm sure you can tell, the house stil has a lot of residual Dark energy, and Sirius was never that great at being confined to begin with, let alone here. And now with him having been locked in Azkaban for so long…it just gets to him. I'm sure he didn't mean it when he called you a coward."

"You don't hav to apologize for him," I answer, taking pity on the stressed man. "I can't imagine its easy, what he's been through, and what he's still going through.

That said, I don't think there's any chance of my actually like the guy, after all the things he did…"

"It's because of Severus, isn't it? That you aren't sure about joining the Order?"

"What do you mean?"

Remus shrugs as he walks me down the stairs and we head around the corner to a shadowy alley from which I can apparate unseen. "Knowing what I do about Severus, I imagine he would be rather protective of you. The poor man has lost everyone he ever cared about, in one way or another, so I doubt he'd want you aligning yourself with You-Know-Who's biggest enemies."

"Cares about?" I scoff, trying to quell my panic, "who said Severus cares about me?"

Remus gives me a patronizing look that screams he thinks I am being ridiculous. "I'm a werewolf, remember?" he asks in a low voice. I'm still not following so I mearly nod. "You of all people should know that my kind retain certain heightened abilities even outside of the full moon, most notably our keen sense of smell," he continues.

My eyes widen as I finally realize what he is implying. "Oh shite!" I exclaim as a blush marches up my cheeks.

"Yeah," he confirms awkwardly, not looking ino my eyes. "Severus's…scent…is all over you."

Oh Merlin, this is so embarrassing! He's trying to be polite about it but I know when he says his "scent" what he actually means is he can smell that we had sex! I knew I should have taken the time for a full shower before visiting Minerva instead of just settling for a cleaning charm! Ugh, I'm mortified!

"Don't be embarresed," he tries to console, "it happens a lot more than you would think. Hogwarts was a nightmare! With all those teenagers and their hormones, it drove me crazy!" he says, now sharing my blush.

"Well, on that note, I'm just going to go now…Oh! But Remus, please, you can't tell anyone about me and Severus. We aren't exactly together, I mean we were, and maybe we are now, I don't really know, but with the Dark Lorad and all..." I ramble, trying to figure out how to explain the convoluted mess that my love life has become. "Let's just say its complicated, but for the sake of everyone's safety, just please, don't say anything," I nearly plead, unleashing my puppy dog eyes.

"No need to bring out the big wands, El, your secret is safe with me. I never was one for gossip to begin with, but aside from that, I know how dangerous it would be for Severus if anyone found out he had a soft spot for…well…anything."

I chuckle as relief washes over me. "Yeah, thanks Remus. You're a good friend."

"So are you. I'll see you over the summer at some point, okay?"

"Definitely. Even if I decide not to join your little club, I want to check on your treatment progress."

"You've got it," he agrees, waving me off as I take out my wand and apparate back to Hogsmeade, anxious to see my on-again, off-again lover and maybe get this settled once and for all.