Chapter 1 ~ Visiting

Muriel was sitting with her father at the formal dining room table when their owl, Gypsy, flapped through the window and deposited a letter in Mr. Deesia's lap. Muriel wordlessly handed the bird a bit of her toast and it flew off again.

The summer was half gone. Severus had finally started acting semi-normal again. He was still blocking her, but he'd at least been able to give her a reason. His father was pressuring him. She worried about it all the time. Severus was learning Occlumency, from Papa no less, so that he wouldn't betray himself when his father questioned him about becoming a Death Eater. Muriel had been silent all through breakfast as she pondered this. There just HAD to be a way to get Severus out of the house before his father forced him to take the dark mark. It was this thought that had her so distracted that she missed what her father said.

"What Papa?" she asked, snapping out of her own thoughts. Her father was examining an unopened envelope suspiciously.

"The Black family crest," he said again, showing her the wax. "Why would anyone from that family be writing to me?"

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "I'd forgotten! It must be from Sirius. It's alright, Papa, he's a friend." Her father was now looking over the envelope at her as though she was crazy.

"I put up with Severus because I know he isn't like his father." His voice was hard, and though his thoughts were continually veiled from her, Muriel could feel that he was worried. "The Black family aren't Death Eaters yet, but they support the Dark Lord none the less. I don't think I want you becoming friends with their son."

"Papa! He's best friends with James Potter!" She knew she sounded utterly exasperated. Her mother would have said that she'd played her Ace too soon. But her mother was gone now, and Muriel wasn't altogether upset about that. On the other hand, her mother would have been only too happy to send her to the Blacks'. "Please just read it and see what he says." She added this a little more quietly, hoping he would listen more to what she was saying than what she was feeling. Her stomach was all in knots!

Still looking at her, he slit the envelope and pulled out a short letter. His eyebrows went up and stayed that way. It seemed to Muriel that he took forever to read it. It was only a short bit of parchment, after all.

"Apparated from the school once or twice, didn't you?" he asked calmly, and she knew she was in a great deal of trouble. Her father had taught her to apparate before she'd ever attended Hogwarts, but you weren't supposed to do it until you passed the ministry's test after your 6th year. The first thing she was going to do when she saw him was hex Black for letting that slip!

"Yes Papa," she admitted. She fixed her eyes on the table in front of her and waited, but the tirade she expected didn't come.

"And how did this young man find out?" Muriel ventured to look up at him. He had a small smile on his face and she judged that he was in an indulgent mood, so she took a deep breath.

"Did mother ever mention that I sent you a letter asking for some new clothes the year before last?" He shook his head sadly. "Well, a Gryffindor girl named Lily Evans had a pair of blue jeans that I liked a lot. I sent an owl to ask if you could send me a pair."

"Oh no." her father said dejectedly.

"She sent me a howler." Muriel tried to keep the emotion out of her voice. "She told the entire school that her daughter would not be dressing like that filthy mud blood in her blue jeans. I actually had to stand up on the table to get everyone's attention, and stun someone to prevent a fight. I even apologized. Lily came and found me afterward and offered to have her mother get me a pair. I told her I had a better idea. The next Hogsmeade weekend I apparated to London and bought 3 pairs of jeans." She looked up, feeling rather ashamed of herself. Her father had taught her to apparate so she could escape if the Death Eaters ever tried to capture her, not so she could go on an unaccompanied shopping trip to London. "Lily must have told Sirius," she finished quietly.

To her surprise her father was laughing softly to himself. When his eyes finally met hers, though, his smile melted away again. "But why would your friend Lily have told a Slytherin that you could apparate?"

"Oh, he's not in Slytherin House, Papa. He's a Gryffindor." They were both startled by the doorbell.

"That will be young Mr. Black," her father said tonelessly, but a smile was playing on the corners of his lips. Muriel jumped from her seat. "I will get the door, young lady!" He sounded strict, but he was smiling in earnest now.

"Yes, Papa. I'll just go change into my dress robes!" She heard her father's laughter again as she raced up the stairs and knew she would be allowed to go.

When she came downstairs Sirius was waiting for her, looking rather pale. 'Lord only knows what Papa said to scare him!' she thought, fighting back her laughter. A moment later her father came downstairs as well, and handed her a bag.

"You'll be spending the night at the Blacks' tonight, since I will likely be away until late tomorrow afternoon." He wasn't smiling, and suddenly neither was Muriel. This wasn't like him at all.

"Papa, will you be alright?" she whispered.

"Of course." He sounded worried, though. "Your mirror is in the bag, be sure to keep it near you and I will contact you when I can."

"Yes, Papa."

"Go on, then, have a good time." He was smiling again, though it looked rather forced. She let Sirius lead her outside and watched her father close the door. When she turned back to Sirius, she saw that his face was now deathly white.

"Come on!" He grabbed the sleeve of her violet robe and pulled her onto what she could only assume was a flying carpet. He was staring at Severus' house, so she did too. As they rose into the air she saw that Mr. Snape had emerged from the house. She knew it was he, in spite of the mask he wore. He was heavier than Severus was and a bit taller. Sirius steered the carpet right into a cloud to keep Mr. Snape from seeing them, which is why neither saw a second figure exit the house as well.

"Snape is a Death Eater?" Sirius was nearly hysterical. Muriel hadn't quite planned on this.

"I told you not to come here. Why didn't you just let me apparate to your house?" her voice was as cold as the saturated air through which they flew.

"He's your best friend, you must have known! Why haven't you told anyone? Why haven't you told your father?" This was definitely not what Muriel had hoped her time alone with Sirius would be like.

"Not Severus, his father! And I haven't told Papa because he's a Death Eater too." This had the effect of closing Sirius' open mouth and giving her time to explain. "Listen. You know my abilities. My father blocks me at every turn. I can't read him at all, so once I forced the issue. I sneaked into his room one night last summer and cast the spell. I saw it all. But I never told him what I'd done. Severus and I decided that it was best to ignore what our parents were doing for as long as we could. When he feels the call of the dark mark, he tells me it's ministry business and off he goes. He can tell that I'm worried, but who wouldn't be worried about Auror's business?" She was out of breath, so she fell silent, waiting for Sirius' response.

He thought about asking her why she didn't turn them both in, but he knew why. Where would she live? How would anyone catch them anyway? And most importantly, would they come back to get even with her if she did?

"I've always been the white sheep in the Black family," said finally, staring hard into her eyes. "Looks like we really are in the same boat." She nodded silently and he realized she was fighting back tears. He looked away.

The sun had burned away the clouds by the time they reached Grimmauld Place. Muriel cast her invisibility charm as they descended and held it until they stood in front of the house. Sirius rolled the carpet and hoisted it up under his arm. He offered her a hand and she took it, not allowing herself to hesitate. "Up for some good news?" he asked slyly as he opened the front door. She narrowed her eyes and nodded warily. "My parents won't be back until dinner."

As Muriel got into bed that night, content from dinner with Sirius, and his brother and father, she was startled by her father's voice whispering her name. She took her mirror out of the pocket of her pajama shirt. "Papa?" she whispered back. Her father's face appeared, looking pale and drawn.

"Muriel, you're going to have to stay with the Blacks longer than I'd expected. I'll send your things over as soon as I can. Whatever you do, don't come back to the house. And don't go anywhere but Diagon Alley this summer. Don't go into muggle London, all right?" He was panicking, but Muriel stayed calm. After all, she already knew why he was telling her this.

"Yes, Papa." His face disappeared. It was a long time before Muriel was able to fall asleep.