|SIYE Time:7:47 on 23rd October 2021|
The Lives We Touch
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Category: Pre-OotP, Alternate Universe
Characters:Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Remus Lupin, Ron Weasley, Sirius Black
Summary: *** The author has been reminded via the e-mail address on file that this story is listed as incomplete and has not been updated in over 2 years ***
When ten year old Harry Potter is assigned to Maggie Thompson's fifth year class at Little Whinging Primary School, the young teacher takes an immediate interest in and liking to the strange but sweet young boy. As their friendship grows through the years, Maggie finds herself pulled into a new world beyond her wildest imagination that sets her on a course for love and adventure.
Hitcount: Story Total: 55512; Chapter Total: 3235
Chapter Twelve - Understanding
The evening of September 1, 1995
The dank smell of the kitchen in Grimmauld Place was masked by the aroma of beef stew and apple tarts as Sirius ambled down the stone steps. Expecting Molly, he was pleasantly surprised to see Maggie standing in the middle of the room surrounded by an assortment of cast iron pots and discarded potato peels. Lit from behind by the light of a roaring fire, her hair shimmered like a golden halo as it surrounded her freshly scrubbed face. He almost had to laugh at her pursed pink lips and the determined glint of concentration in her eye as she attacked a defenseless potato with one of Molly’s kitchen knives.
Strangely fascinated, Sirius watched as the strip of potato peel grew longer and wound into a tight curl, its stark white underside contrasting with the dirty, dark brown outer skin. Though it wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing, it reminded him of the colorful curling ribbon one used on presents. The first curl soon lay in the heap on the table, but another one was already dangling above it. He watched it intently as it spiraled downward, even longer than the one before it until it finally fell onto the wooden tabletop.
Clearing his throat to alert her of his presence, Sirius said quietly, “I’ve never seen potatoes treated like that before.”
Glancing up at him, a lock of blond hair fell across Maggie’s face and Sirius fought the sudden urge to smooth it back with his fingers. Looking at him quizzically, she asked, “You’ve never seen anyone peel a potato before?”
Returning her smile, he informed her, “I usually stay out of the kitchen until the food is served. Plus, most of the people who inhabit the kitchens I have been in have spells to handle this particular task.”
“I know,” Maggie answered, blowing the stray lock of hair out of her eyes only to have it flop back down in the same place, “I watched Molly with complete envy last week. It almost had me wishing that I was a witch…just so I could get out of KP duty.”
“KP duty?” He repeated, moving farther into the room and over to the fireplace. Lifting the lid from the pot and inhaling the delicious aroma from within, he smiled his approval as Maggie answered, “Kitchen Patrol. My father served in the American Army and was often assigned KP duty, which usually consisted of peeling potatoes.”
“I didn’t know you could cook.” Sirius remarked, reaching out for a nearby spoon so that he could taste her culinary creation.
“With Molly around, I didn’t have to cook.” She answered, watching closely for his reaction as he tasted a bite of stew. When he raised his eyebrows in an obvious sign of approval, she smiled and continued, “Cooking is practically a religion where I grew up in Louisiana.” A bit of wistfulness entered her tone as she added, “I would sit on the counter in my mama’s kitchen for hours and watch her cook. She swore it was the only way to learn.”
Setting the pot lid back on the stew, Sirius watched her closely as he asked quietly, “You were close to your family growing up?”
“Very.” Maggie answered, avoiding his stare as she set about cutting up the potatoes into small chunks. Quietly, she added, “They’ll begin to worry if they don’t hear from me soon. It’s been nearly two weeks.”
Maggie had become such a regular fixture at Grimmauld Place since her arrival that Sirius had almost forgotten about her life out in the Muggle world. Remus and Arthur had made a call to the school where she taught to alert them of her sudden leave of absence and had sent a note to her Aunt Sarah informing the woman that her niece would be teaching abroad for the semester and would contact her soon. But they had apparently forgotten about the faraway family who would soon begin to miss their youngest daughter.
“We’ll figure something out.” He said gruffly, suddenly realizing the emotional price that Maggie was paying because of the new life she was forced to live in the wizarding world.
Quickly changing the subject in an attempt to keep her sudden tears at bay, she asked, “So, how was the trip to the train station? Did the kids get off okay?”
He nodded abruptly and answered, “They should be well on their way to Hogwarts by now.”
“So the train that takes students to a school that no one outside of the wizarding world is supposed to know about leaves from King’s Cross Station in the middle of London?” Maggie asked, scooping up the chunks of potato and motioning for him to remove the lid from the stew pot for her. Dumping the potatoes into the thick, brown gravy, she continued, “How does that work?”
“There is a magical platform that only wizards can access.” Sirius replied, replacing the lid on the stew and moving over to the pantry. Removing two butterbeers and setting them on the table, he watched her gather up the potato peels as he said, “You would be surprised how often wizards and Muggles interact without even knowing it.”
Maggie nodded as she turned away from the garbage and accepted the bottle that he offered. They drank their butterbeers in awkward silence for a few moments before Maggie asked, “And Harry was glad that you got to go along? I know that Molly was concerned about someone seeing you.”
“It was a risk I was willing to take,” Sirius informed her, “and it was a chance for me to get out and stretch my legs for a bit.”
“Do you think anyone saw you?”
“I doubt it.” He answered with a shrug, moving over to sit at the table.
“That’s good,” she replied lamely and then asked, “So Molly and Arthur headed back to the Burrow?” When he nodded, she asked again, “And Remus? Is he upstairs in the drawing room?”
“No, he had some business to attend to in Hogsmeade Village.”
“Oh,” Maggie said simply, resisting the urge to ask what a Hogsmeade Village was, and then asked, “Will he be back at all this evening?”
“Tiring of my company already, Miss Magnolia?” Sirius teased, looking up at her.
Feeling her cheeks burn with embarrassment, she stuttered, “No…I simply meant that…” she gestured to the pot of stew awkwardly and finished with, “I made a lot of stew and it would be a shame for it to go to waste if…”
“He’ll be home eventually.” Sirius reassured her.
Another awkward silence fell over the kitchen and the only sounds that could be heard were the crackling of the fire and the limping clock. Sirius resumed staring at the hearth and didn't speak again for a few minutes. Desperate for something to do, Maggie moved over to the hearth to see if the potatoes were cooking at an appropriate pace and then lamely remarked, “Dinner should be ready soon. Would you like some bread? I know that Molly baked a fresh loaf yesterday for us to eat from.”
“Sounds good,” he said without looking up. “You don’t have to cook for me, you know. I mean, Molly did because she had a family around to feed and because that is what Molly does. But you are a guest here and not a…”
“I like to cook.” Maggie reminded him, taking the bread down from a shelf. “And it gives me something to do.”
“Besides stare at the walls?” Sirius asked knowingly. “If you use cooking as a cure for boredom around here, we are both going to weigh as much as this house by the end of the month.”
Maggie smirked at him as she set about cutting the bread while he set out the plates and silverware for their meal. The scene was eerily domestic and an outside observer would surely confuse them for a newly married couple settling in for a romantic evening meal. Snickering under his breath at the absurdity of the thought, Sirius took out his wand and moved the pot over to the table so that Maggie wouldn’t have to worry about burning her hands.
It had been a long time since Sirius had shared dinner with anyone outside of the Order and the silence that settled around them was more comforting than it was awkward this time. As her stomach tightened around the hearty meal, Maggie stole a look at Sirius' face. The deep shadows of firelight etched tales of hardship there -- the years since their last meeting on the street in Godric’s Hollow had been unkind. She wondered how much of the cold steel in his eyes or the anger that sometimes set his mouth when he looked at her was really caused by her unexpected arrival. Maybe after such a long time spent wrongfully imprisoned, it was just his habit now to be bitter. But Maggie had the nagging suspicion that his bitterness was only a shell, as she had caught certain glimpses of a playful, protective, and passionate man just below the hard surface as they had spent time together over the last few weeks. When Sirius was with Harry…talking, laughing, or simply sitting together…the years seemed to lift from the dark haired man’s face and the burden he carried upon his strong shoulders seemed to disappear. But now that Harry had gone back to school, Maggie wondered if she would catch any more glimpses of the man she suspected lurked beneath the dark exterior.
Maggie shook her head in confusion as Sirius’ voice suddenly pulled her out of her thoughts. “Excuse me?”
“You were staring at me.” He informed her as his eyes bore into her. “Why?”
Sirius cut off her protest as he reminded her, “I am sitting two feet away from you and can tell when someone is staring at me. And you, Miss Magnolia, were staring. So now I want you to tell me why.”
Maggie pursed her lips and then said honestly, “I was wondering if you are really the bitter and sullen man I met on my first evening here or if you are truly the fun loving free spirit that Remus and Harry speak so highly of and are constantly defending to me.”
He narrowed his eyes at her and Maggie began to wish that she had bitten her tongue when he suddenly threw his head back and laughed. Looking at her again with a gleam in his eye, he asked, “You don’t hold anything back, do you?”
“Well, the answer to my question will certainly affect my stay here.” She answered defensively, not sure what to make of his laugh. “Because right now I never know from one minute to the next if you are going to tease me or turn me into a toad.”
"I never learned how to transform Muggles into toads.” He answered, raising his eyebrow at her in a slightly comical way. “But I think I could manage a pretty good coat tree."
Maggie giggled in spite of herself and she took a bite of her stew, but his tone was bitter as he reminded her, “I spent twelve years in prison for a crime that I didn’t commit and I’d still be there if I hadn’t escaped. It took a bit of a toll, so excuse me if I am not the laugh-a-minute young man that my friends remember…”
“I didn’t mean to bring back painful memories for you.” Maggie interrupted quietly. “I was simply trying to make conversation and apparently I chose the wrong topic.”
She saw his fist tighten as he set his bottle of butterbeer down firmly on the table as he said, “Your question was not the cause of my memories resurfacing. Truth be told, there is barely a day that goes by when I am not affected by my time in Azkaban.”
“I have heard that it is awful.” She said quietly, playing with her stew.
Sirius turned his head and his shadowed gray eyes engaged her bright blue ones. Time stretched itself thin as spider silk while unspoken questions took shape in the space between them. Finally, Sirius whispered almost to himself, "They said that I was crazy. That I was insane because I sat in Azkaban for twelve years and acted normal. They said that I had killed twelve Muggles and one wizard. They said that I ratted out my two best friends and caused their deaths. They said I felt no remorse and that the dementors couldn't take my soul because I didn't have one.”
Maggie felt sudden tears well up behind her eyes as he took a deep breath and continued, “But I did feel and I do have a soul. And every July 31st, I sat down in a corner of my cell and picked up a small rock. With this rock, I would write the words Dear Harry on the wall of my cell. I wrote my godchild a letter every year, wishing him a happy birthday, telling him that I was innocent, that I would be back for him soon, and that I was sorry.”
Sirius took a long swig of his butterbeer and Maggie was silent as she wondered if he was going to say anymore. Staring at the back wall of the fireplace, he continued, “And every other day, I listened...watched...stared at the monotonous stone-gray walls, their pattern occasionally broken by a large patch of dried blood. Men had been driven mad in the very chamber where I slept, and madmen had been driven to their deaths.”
As fragmented impressions of a darkness that froze the very marrow of her soul began to play out in her mind, the first dawning of horrible understanding contorted Maggie’s face and she squeezed her eyes shut with a shudder.
With his next words, Sirius articulated like teeth on a saw blade. "Feelings of love and hope attracted the dementors like Red Caps to blood. If I had dwelt on any happiness I had known, they would have devoured my soul and I truly would have gone insane. Memory in that place was death."
"You were forced to have only unhappy thoughts for twelve years?" Maggie whispered in a voice that didn’t even sound like her own.
“Until one day I realized that Peter Pettigrew had found refuge with the Weasley family and masqueraded as a pet rat, keeping an ear out for news of the Dark Side and his old master. I figured that Ron and Harry were in the same year at Hogwart’s, so Wormtail would be in the perfect position to attack and no one would suspect a rat as a murderer…”
“The rat…Pettigrew…was going to murder Harry?” Maggie gasped in horror as Sirius nodded in affirmation. She tried desperately to digest this new bit of information as he continued,
“So I escaped…for Harry. To save Harry.”
“How?” Maggie breathed, completely intrigued by Sirius’ tale.
“I was a skinny mutt…but I was exceptional.”
“Not to mention the fact that you were driven by your love for Harry and your desire for revenge on Wormtail.” Maggie added before she could stop herself.
Sirius looked at her for a long time and she could tell that he was shocked by her understanding of his motives. Finally he said, “I was the first prisoner to ever escape Azkaban, and I didn’t even belong there.”
With their meal finished, Maggie and Sirius spent the next half hour in the kitchen watching the embers in the hearth burn themselves out. He was nursing the last ounces of his butterbeer, while she absently traced the engraving on her empty plate with a finger tip. Although he had already finished his dinner, she thought it was a good sign that Sirius had not risen to go or suggested that she must be tired and would want to get to bed early. They simply sat in front of their empty plates in silence, neither of them able to figure out how to continue their conversation.
Finally Maggie took another deep breath and asked quietly, “Why did you laugh?”
“I’m sorry?” He asked, dragging himself away from his thoughts and seemingly forcing himself to focus on her.
“That day…on the street.” Maggie reminded him quietly. “You laughed when Peter disappeared. Why did you laugh?”
She conveniently left out the part about his laugh haunting her dreams for the last twelve years, but listened intently as he answered quietly, “It was one of those situations in which you have to dispense of so much emotion that you must either laugh or cry -- and I chose to laugh. Because I had already cried enough to last me a thousand lifetimes."
Whatever Maggie had been expecting him to say, that hadn’t been it. He had already shared so much of himself with her that she debated whether to ask him any more questions. The possibility that he could completely shut down on her was very real, but Maggie pressed on anyway.
“What happened to make you cry?”
“That day…when you saw me on the street…was the day that Harry’s parents were murdered.” Sirius answered quietly and Maggie once again had to blink back the tears. “Peter Pettigrew had been our friend and he betrayed James and Lily to Lord Voldemort. I found out too late…I arrived too late, so I stood in front of a pile of rubble that used to be James and Lily's house and sobs shook my whole body because I knew what had happened.”
If Maggie didn’t know any better, she would have thought that Sirius swiped away some tears of his own, but he quickly covered up his actions and said in a stronger voice, “It hurt so much inside to know they were dead. James and Lily were two of my best friends and nothing could ever make up for their loss, their untimely death. The only thing left was revenge.” He looked at her knowingly and continued, “And then I had that taken from me as well. The world came crashing down around me and it stopped spinning for an instant. Everything that mattered to me was gone…James, Lily, and even Harry had been taken away. Everything I had believed in, everything I had hoped for and trusted in was destroyed. It was all too much…something in my brain just snapped.”
Drawn in by the raw emotion on his face, Maggie unthinkingly reached across the table and clasped his hand between the two of hers. To the complete and utter surprise of both of them, he didn’t instinctively pull away from her soft, calming touch. Instead, Sirius absent mindedly covered her hands with his free one and began to trace small circles on her skin with his thumb as she whispered, “You were delirious with grief and shock. All you could do was laugh.”
Their eyes met and a deep sense of understanding passed between the brave young schoolteacher and the wrongly convicted prisoner. They suddenly shared much more than a connection and an unwavering loyalty to Harry, though neither would be able to explain it if asked.
But any further conversation was forgotten when a great, silver lynx suddenly bounded down the kitchen steps and sat down on its haunches next to Sirius. To Maggie’s astonishment, it began to speak in Kingsley Shacklebolt's deep, reassuring voice…
“Dumbledore wants to see you. Bring the Magnolia.”
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