clumsy_auror: (ancient and most noble)
[personal profile] clumsy_auror
They were in her living room, the fire warding off the chill wind that beat against the windows, the lamps low, candles guttering. He looked older than Nymphadora remembered. Older than she cared to ever imagine him looking, really. But that's what happens when people die, she thought. You remember them the way you want to. Not the way they were.

Sirius raked his long fingers through his lank black hair, dark eyes staring into the fire and reflecting it like two opaque marbles. Or perhaps two tiny, clouded crystal balls, unwilling to give up their secrets to someone as bad at Divination as Nymphadora had always been. "Nice place," he said finally, his voice rough and quiet.

A half-smile quirked at her lips, almost nervously. He was, after all, still Sirius, still her brave grown-up cousin, still the one who was going to make sure everything was all right. He and his brave, brilliant friends.

They are all of them dead or dying, she reminded herself. For a moment she was shocked at her dispassionate view of things -- Remus, what about Remus? -- but Nymphadora reflected that it was easier to be truthful, in dreams, no matter how unpalatable the truth. She could lie to herself later, after the dream had faded.

"Thanks," 'Dora replied finally. "Bernard built it, with help."

A low grunt. "Never figured he'd be one for settling down. Not after the way he was with Madamoiselle Delacour."

She shrugged, and glanced over at her cousin. "We're happy. We've both changed, I think."

With a sudden, jerky movement, Sirius was standing, pacing slowly, hands stuffed into the pockets of his trousers. "I didn't get to finish it," he muttered, and for one odd moment she couldn't quite understand his meaning. Then he went on. "Didn't get to see it through. I never do, do I? Always haring off, half-cocked, before a thing can be finished. Lucky I ever finished Hogwarts. Miracle, really."

There was an uncomfortable pricking up the length of Nymphadora's spine, and she looked down at her hands. "You had a-- a bit of a rough go of things. But you did everything you could."

The wizard leveled a flat look back at her. "I could've defeated Bellatrix that day, instead of letting her get me. It was a stupid mistake, I could've feinted to the left and hit her on my way, I was always the better dueler in school, she didn't used to be able to touch me when it came to hexes."

"Don't underestimate the power of insanity," 'Dora murmured. "By that time she was completely mad, Sirius. It gave her an edge that was almost impossible to beat."

"Yeah, well. Least your mum got her in the end." He flashed a fond, inward smile, his eyes warming slightly at the thought of his equally-defiant cousin.

"She did." A breath. "But it isn't-- it isn't really over, you know. None of it. It isn't finished for me, just like it isn't finished for you. There's always gonna be something."

Sirius stilled, and Nymphadora thought absently that it was a very Padfoot sort of stance; a great black dog sighting his prey through a tangle of trees. "There isn't going to be anything more for Harry."

She had to force herself to say it, had to take a deep breath and shake her head. "You know that isn't true. It's Harry. Even if it doesn't find him, he'll go looking for it."

"No." He was almost trembling, now, hands balled into fists, too-thin frame taut like a violin string waiting to be plucked. "No. Not after everything we-- that's not why I-- I didn't do all this so he could be a hero. I did it so he could live, and have some peace."

'Dora stood, finally, and walked over to face her cousin, looking up into his hollowed eyes. "Yeah, I know you did. So did I. I did it so nobody'd ever call my kids mudbloods. But they will. And I did it so that Voldemort wouldn't win. And he didn't. But someone else is gonna come along, because that's the way it works. That's the balance, isn't it? That's the tension."

His face twisted, and he half-turned away, gaze falling heavily on a picture of her, Bernard, Sunny, and Anthony that was framed on the mantle. The children laughed silently, Sunny gnawing affectionately on one of her brother's hands. Bernard's arm was slung easily around his wife's shoulders. Sunshine warmed their faces, open and happy. "What tension?" he replied flatly, his eyes flickering to hers with reproach. "I don't see the tension, here."

"No, I--" Her heart constricted. "It's there, Sirius. Maybe it's less, for a time, maybe it'll spare them in the end like it didn't spare you, but it's still there. For everything we did, my kids are still gonna know fear. Harry will still know it, too. Because that's just the way it works."

The anger drained out of his face, leaving a shadowed mask behind.

All the Blacks wear masks, Nymphadora thought suddenly. We spend half our lives learning how to put them on, and the other half figuring out how to take them off.

But Sirius hadn't gotten to the second lesson in time.

"So why'd we do it, then?" he asked quietly. "Why'd we go to all that trouble?"

Nymphadora didn't answer him. She simply kept her gaze trained on him, waiting for Sirius to meet it.

He did, finally.

Then he answered his own question.

"Because there wasn't anything else we could have done. Was there."

'Dora shook her head slowly.

You can't lie to yourself in dreams, she thought again, as Sirius turned once more to stare into the flames. You can't tell yourself that winning means never having to lose again.

The inky blackness of their hair seemed to grow, swallowing the light from the flickering fire, from the candles, and the dream melted away into darkness.
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