Prologue

Muriel left St. Mungo's hurriedly, long after the sun went down. Sirius had expected her to look at a house today that they were thinking of buying, but she was too late. With the wedding less than six months away, he was starting to get nervous about finding them a place of their own. She left by the visitor's entrance, thinking a walk might clear her head. Aunt Rosa had fallen ill so suddenly, and Muriel worried about her a lot. She walked past a filthy alley and a sudden movement caught her eye. She heard footsteps.

She peered down the dark street and quickly cast a vision enhancement charm on herself. Now she could make out shapes, a man dressed in muggle clothing hurrying away from a tall, thin man in robes. She saw a small glint of light reflecting from the man's wand. Without another thought, she pulled out her own wand.

"Expelliarmus!" she shouted. The robed figure flew backward, and she summoned his wand before it hit the ground. It changed direction in midair and flew into her hand as she ran forward. The man was trying to get up, so she bound him and cautiously reached out a hand to remove his mask. He struggled violently as she pulled the mask away from his face.

"No," she whispered, her eyes widening. She took his left hand and violently pushed back the sleeve of his robe to reveal the dark mark, black and harsh on his pale skin.

"NO!" she screamed, throwing his arm back at him in rage.

"MURIEL?" Someone was shouting at her, and she thought the voice sounded familiar. She stared at the man before her for a second more, taking in all the thoughts that were flying out of his mind and into hers. "MURIEL?" Her father was calling to her from the street. He and the Auror named Harrington were running toward them.

"Go. Just go!" she whispered, releasing the bound Death Eater.

"Mur, you can't. If you let me go - " He was whispering desperately, and her father was coming closer. She threw him his wand and pointed hers at him.

"GO NOW!" she screamed. He vanished with a loud CRACK as her father reached her.


Banished - Muriel Does America


Muriel watched tensely as Papa paced the dining room, her arms wrapped solidly around her knees. She'd already been hexed silent, whether it was because he didn't want to hear her sobs or because he was afraid she'd curse him, she wasn't sure. Just at that moment she didn't particularly care. Severus had escaped. That was all that mattered.

She didn't bother to glance at his face when he stopped before her, schooling her storm gray eyes to gaze at the floor, and stifling her tears. "Alright. I know what to do," he said briskly, hauling her up by her elbow. He took her left hand roughly and pulled her engagement ring from her finger, dropping it on the table on the way to the fireplace. Mur's eyes narrowed, and she dug in her heels, fixing him with a demonic glare when he was forced to turn around and face her. She didn't try to protest verbally, knowing that Papa's silencing charms were flawless. His expression, worry with a liberal dose of disappointment, softened ever so slightly.

"I'm sorry, Mur. Where I'm taking you, that will only hinder your work, and until you find a place of your own, you won't have anywhere to hide it. It stays here until that time." After a long pause, Muriel nodded shortly. She didn't understand, but she trusted him. He'd spent her whole life looking out for her, after all. She coughed silently on the soot as they traveled to the ministry, then made their way to the lesser-used fireplaces that were designated for international travel. The place was deserted, only the night guard was present, and he hadn't looked up at all as they shuffled across the floor.

Half an hour later found Muriel Deesia, wand twirling idly in her hands, gazing across a mahogany table at a fat wizard in muggle clothing. And not the ridiculous costumes she'd seen European wizards don for trips to muggle London. This man was dressed impeccably in a business suit and a thin tie. It was only 7pm here, and though office hours were surely over, he looked neither annoyed nor bored. She theorized that he must owe her father quite a favor.

Papa had removed her silencing charm with an admonishment that it would certainly be renewed if she spoke out of turn. She'd only smirked. If she hadn't been crying her eyes out the first time, he would never have been able to cast it on her in the first place. She'd come a long way since their duel in the forest. She was nearly his match, now, and they both knew it.

"Get me Smith," the fat man had said, his hand on a little button that glowed annoyingly from the machine on his desk. Mur quirked an eyebrow. "A telephone," he said in response, not bothering to hide his amusement over her ignorance. Mur just rolled her eyes.

Moments later a man strode into the office behind her and her father, and the fat man rose to shake his hand. "Jas! Good of you to come. I think I've found you a partner."

Mur watched him as he moved smoothly to take the other man's hand. He was older than she by a good 6 years, she guessed. His white-blond hair was short and spiked in the odd fashion that Yanks were wearing these days. A silver hoop dangled from one ear. He was tanned beyond anyone she'd ever laid eyes on outside of Italy, and she wondered briefly if he'd bleached his hair that impossible color on purpose. His designer jeans and silk shirt, with one too many buttons undone, spoke little of his abilities, and were the most obvious contributors to the haughty smirk that was already gracing her features.

The arrogant look was wiped away an instant later, however, when he turned with a flamboyant, if crooked, grin and offered his hand to her father. "Good to meet you, dude. We'll be great. You'll have to leave the little girl at home, though."

In any other situation, Muriel Deesia would have hexed him where he stood. Today, however, she kept her gaze firmly fixed on the fat man, who'd nervously resumed his seat. She could almost feel the cold emanating from her father's frozen smile.

However, she could sense that the man hadn't intended to be condescending. He honestly thought she was just along for the ride. She could also sense that he was becoming very uncomfortable with her father's suddenly gripping handshake. It was funny to feel her father's emotions second hand like that. He was obviously offended on her behalf. She decided to bail the twerp out.

"Actually, Smith, I'M your new partner. My father will be heading back home tonight, so we'll have the evening to get to know each other before we've got to show up at the office tomorrow. I'll need you to show me around a bit, I'm afraid." She cast a glance at the telephone. "Muggle technology's not my forte."

Throughout this entire speech, Papa continued to squeeze the younger man's hand, letting go only when Muriel offered him her own to shake. "You can call me Deesia," she finished dryly, taking care to make her handshake nearly as firm as her father's.

She took great satisfaction in the embarrassed smile he gave her, but didn't soften her annoyed expression at all.

"Alright, Mur. You're alright here, then?" Papa asked finally. She turned her cold eyes to him.

"You'll give them the letters?" Her tone, neutral only a moment ago, had turned dangerous. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Smith shiver. Good. Let him learn early on that she wasn't to be trifled with. Her father nodded shortly, patted the pocket of his robes, and was gone with an audible CRACK.

Three months later found her settled in at the Auror headquarters in Washington D.C. It had been awkward at first, learning to drive, shopping for clothes with Smith, and getting to know co-workers, almost all of whom were half-bloods or less. Of course, she'd learned to disregard such things in certain instances, Marisa and Lily, for example. But years of instilled prejudice weren't easy to overcome, and she still sat uneasily in the cafeteria, sipping a coca-cola and eyeing her peers with an unaffected look of disinterest.

Smith was off for the day, which allowed her to catch up on paperwork from their first few cases, mostly raids. She knew the fat man had handed them the easiest of tasks, but had completed them nevertheless. In fact, she and Smith had completed most of them in half the time, and with twice the results anyone had expected. Thankfully, Smith hadn't questioned how she knew about the secret hiding places they'd found. He'd just grinned as he gave their report and gone back to ignoring her, as she'd done him. All in all, it was a mutually satisfying relationship.

She hadn't heard from Sirius or Severus, though Papa had stopped by twice. He'd been a little surprised to hear that she'd taken up residence with her new partner in New York City. Muriel, herself, had been shaken when Smith offered to let her crash at his place rather than rent an apartment (as they were called here) of her own. She'd angrily informed him that she hadn't even moved in with her fiancé, and he was a presumptuous bastard to even HINT that she ought to move in with him.

He'd grinning at her, his amusement fueling her anger, and let her rant. When she finally fell silent, he dropped his bombshell. "You're in no danger from me, Beautiful. I prefer men." The next day, he'd helped her pick out furniture for her bedroom. Three days later, when they were all settled, he'd gone back to ignoring her, and she him.

As she thought of all this, her eyes staring unfocused at her beverage, someone appeared suddenly beside her with a resounding CRACK. In an instant, she was standing, wand in hand.

But it was only Johnson, his tray full of goulash, who'd just apparated from the concession counter. Johnson was a burly man in his mid-thirties, who'd been among the older aurors she'd met. Apparently those who'd served much longer than him didn't frequent the cafeteria. All it took was a sniff at the food to know why. She scowled. "Nice entrance," she said scathingly as he laughed at her paranoia.

"Mind?" he asked, indicating the seat in front of her. Muriel knew if she let him sit down, they'd soon be joined by his partner, then his partner's girlfriend and HER partner. She hadn't really wanted company. Nevertheless, she nodded stiffly and resumed her seat. Predictably, she was surrounded within the next 5 minutes. "So, Deesia, have you filed the paperwork for a new partner yet?" Johnson asked casually. Mur narrowed her eyes and lowered her laden fork back to her plate.

"Why would I want to do that?" she asked carefully. No one present had been informed of her gift, and she could see that his intentions in starting this conversation were antagonistic, if not to her, certainly to Smith.

"Well, no one has lasted over a month with that pretty boy fag, and the bets are on how long you'll put up with him."

Muriel removed her hand from her fork, wiped her mouth, and stood. Almost, she couldn't believe what Johnson had just said. Before anyone could react, she'd drawn her wand and thrown him against the nearest wall hard enough to crack the plaster. Several people tried to stun her, but each fell in a crumpled heap, caught by their own deflected spells. Before he could sag to the floor, she turned her wand back on him, holding him in place.

The few remaining people in the cafeteria appeared too wary to try anything else. Mur closed a small hand around Johnson's adam's apple and forced him to keep his lolling head upright. "The only eunuch spell I know is permanent. If you don't want me to cast it here and now, you will keep your opinions about Smith to yourself. Are we clear?"

Unable to nod, he croaked out what passed for an affirmative answer, and she allowed him to fall heavily to the floor, grasping his throat with one hand and massaging the back of his head with the other. "If anyone else would like to say something derogatory about my partner, now is the time. Next time, I won't be so forgiving." She didn't bother to meet anyone's eyes as she strode out of the cafeteria, followed by whispered 'enervate' spells and a great deal of suspicion.

Halloween came and went without much fuss, and Mur was grateful that Smith hadn't yet heard about her encounter with Johnson. On only one occasion had the three of them shared a meeting room, and Johnson had been polite to a fault. Mur had only smirked.

On the Saturday following Halloween, she was unusually despondent, and Smith picked up on it immediately. They were between assignments, and he was between boyfriends, which is the only reason they were both knocking about the apartment on the same evening.

"Want to talk about it?" he asked jovially, removing his feet from the coffee table long enough for her to walk by. For his trouble, Muriel graced him with an angry glare, but no answer. "Is it this Black fellow you mentioned?" he asked finally, when she'd left the room and returned with another coke.

Mur threw an unopened bottle at his head, which he caught easily, before sinking onto the couch beside him and opening her own. "Why is it that TODAY you want to be friendly?" she asked scathingly. After all, aside from discussions about work, they hardly ever spoke. There just never seemed to be time.

"Because, TODAY, you look like you need a friend."

Mur thought about this for a long moment. "Today should have been my wedding day," she answered quietly. These marked the last words spoken for the day as she took her coke and cloistered herself in her room, leaving a very confused partner to stare blindly at the TV.

It seemed impossible to Mur that Sirius wouldn't have written, after the letter she'd given to Papa, not to mention those she'd sent since. Even less likely was the fact that Severus hadn't contacted her either. Curious, she penned a letter to Remus that day, and had Smith's owl take it to the international floo station for delivery to England. The rest of the day, she slept.

Monday found her back to her usual self, though Smith was far more cordial than usual. She scowled at him as he held the door to the break room for her for the second time that day. "What's with you?" she asked accusingly.

Before he could answer, Johnson and his partner pushed their way in behind them. "Deesia, Smith," Johnson said, a little more warmly than was usual. "Good weekend, I hope."

As was her custom, Muriel ignored him. Smith, on the other hand, was looking at him incredulously. "Someone practicing cheering charms on you, Dick?" he asked. Muriel barely suppressed a snort. His name was Dick? No wonder he was touchy about Smith's preferences.

Johnson opened his mouth to reply, but caught sight of Mur's narrowed eyes, and rethought his response quickly. "Just 'cuz we're not partners anymore doesn't mean we can't be friendly, Jas." The hurt expression on his face was overdone, in Mur's opinion, but at least he was making an effort. She poured him a cup of coffee and handed it to him, nodding slightly. She felt a wave of suspicion from Jas and knew she was caught.

He closed the door behind Johnson and his partner as soon as possible and turned to Mur. "What the hell was that all about?"

Mur looked at him appraisingly. Sirius would have been embarrassed to learn that she'd 'defended his honor.' Severus and James would both have been offended. And all three of them would have expressed their emotions through anger. Peter would have been pathetically grateful, and Remus would have been quietly thankful. Unfortunately, she had no idea whatsoever how Jas Smith would react to such a thing. "Johnson and I had a discussion about what is his business and what isn't. We came to the mutual agreement that your lifestyle isn't," she responded finally. He didn't appear to be angry. In fact, he looked as though his birthday had come a month or two early. He laughed suddenly and took the coffee cup from her hands, sloshing it a bit onto the industrial carpeting.

"HA HA! That's my girl!" Grabbing her around the waist, he swung her in a wide circle. When he finally set her back on the ground, she was laughing as well, though she stopped abruptly when he planted a firm kiss on her lips. She pushed him away roughly, her eyes wide.

"JAS!"

Belatedly, she realized her reaction to be a mistake. His customary grin disappeared, to be replaced by a look of hurt that he wasn't able to hide. An instant later, he turned on his heel and left the room without another word. Several weeks of silence followed this odd reaction, and Muriel spent them trying to figure out exactly what could have caused it. He was so unlike anyone she'd ever known that she felt it was hopeless. Around the time she gave up trying to figure him out, Jas started talking to her again.

Through all this, he had continually proven himself an able partner. Raids were now given to someone else, and they'd been set to the task of tracking down wizards and witches suspected of criminal dark magic. And they were good at it. Very good. She'd been with the American Aurory just over 6 months, and already she and Jas were the most requested team they had.

By Christmas, Mur and Jas were back to the careful friendship they'd managed just after Halloween, though neither one seemed eager to try and share anything beyond that. Spare time was spent alone, in Mur's case, or out and about in China Town, as Jas preferred. By now, Mur was thoroughly frustrated with the lack of news from her friends across the pond.

She was pacing the kitchen. "It isn't as if the news here actually REPORTS on what's going on over there!" she exclaimed one evening. "They could all be DEAD for all I know. Papa isn't even answering my letters anymore!" Mur heard him click off the TV, though she was sure he'd grown tired of hearing her complaints. He appeared in the doorway a moment later, in only pajama bottoms. She had to admit he was a sight to see.

"Expecting company?" she asked wickedly, her face breaking into a grin in spite of her rotten mood. She hadn't grinned nearly so much before she met Jas, of that she was sure.

He quirked a smile and shook his head. "No, Beautiful, all this is yours for the night. It's Christmas Eve, remember?" Mur rolled her eyes.

"Why would you want to stay here with a ranting Brit when you could be eating turkey and opening presents? Don't you have family you could be visiting?" She'd obviously said the wrong thing again, because his face once again lost its boyish grin. His eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. But this time, Mur didn't let him walk out.

Before he could turn, she reached out and took his hand. A face flashed through her mind almost as if he was projecting it to her on purpose. With the vision came a wash of hurt and humiliation the like of which she'd never experienced. She gasped, but held tightly to his hand. When she thought she'd sorted out what she'd learned, she looked up into his eyes. He wasn't nearly as tall as Sirius and Sev, more Remus' height, but still taller than she.

"Who was she, Jas," she whispered urgently. "What's her name?"

She didn't hear his reply, concentrating instead on what entered his mind. And a name did enter his mind. She whispered it to herself, as though making sure not to forget. Jas pulled his hand forcefully from hers.

"I didn't tell you that!" he raged, glaring at her in a very uncharacteristic way before retreating, childlike, from the kitchen and slamming the door to his room. Things clicked into place, then, for Muriel. Jas was insecure, mortally afraid of women in general (though he was cautiously edging past that in her case), and he had an inferiority complex to rival Remus'. And it all came back to one woman. Without even trying, she could hear the thoughts about that woman tumbling in his head, three rooms away. He'd been only 6 years old. It was less than 5 minutes before Muriel concluded that the woman needed to die. No child should ever be exposed to that sort of torment.

Christmas came and went, and Jas remained in his room. The wards he'd placed on his door were rather impressive, and it was Boxing Day before Mur managed to break them all. He didn't bother to reset them as she worked. She took that as an invitation.

She found him stretched out on the window seat, looking out onto the dreary, but busy street. He looked as lost and alone as she felt. She placed a wrapped box in his idle hands and knelt down beside him, resting her head on his legs. He looked at it for a moment, then met her eyes. The shadow of a grin flickered over his face. "Yours is in my top drawer. No making fun of my underwear," he said, his voice hoarse from disuse or crying, or both.

Mur grinned and retrieved a pretty, purple package, wrapped much more neatly than the one she'd given him. Wordlessly, she climbed up onto the other side of the window seat and put her feet in his lap. Finally he grinned at her again, already tearing into the sloppy silver paper of the tiny box.

"It's an earring," he commented, holding it up, an odd look on his face. It was almost a question.

"Yes. Don't you get tired of the hoop? It's a dragon tooth. Welsh, I think." He looked at her incredulously, but she only grinned and leaned forward. "Here." She took the hoop out of his ear carefully and replaced it with the dragon tooth. Once in, it appeared that the snake was holding onto his earlobe with its fangs, while its tail coiled around the nearly iridescent tooth. Jas summoned a mirror, and grinned approvingly.

"Cool! Thanks." His eyes flicked to her gift and she fidgeted a bit and unwrapped it carefully. She'd honestly been surprised that he'd bothered, considering how she'd upset him lately.

She pulled the metal object from the paper and cocked her head, a confused expression gracing her features. There were buttons on it, and knobs. It was obviously a muggle contraption of some sort, but what exactly, she didn't know. Finally she cast a helpless look into Jas' bright, brown eyes, and his grin widened. He loved it when she had to ask for help. "It's a radio. Charmed to pick up the WWNs from all over the world."

As much as she would have liked to demand that he turn it on immediately and see if there was any news about the Dark Lord, she smiled back and him and forced herself to set it aside. He deserved an explanation of her Legilimens ability, and, after a quiet, "Thank you," for her gift, she proceeded to explain it all in excruciating detail. It was a long conversation, followed by an even longer question and answer session, followed by a very agonizing apology. At no time during the conversation did either mention anything about the information she had learned.

Mur was reminded once again how different Jas was from the friends she'd known at home when, after several hours of discussion, he not only accepted her apology, but seemed truly pleased to learn of her ability. She shook her head as he jumped from the seat with the same energy he had just before any big assignment.

"But this is great! You can tell me when you're in trouble, and vice versa, without the suspects ever knowing we've communicated! Why didn't you tell me about this before?!"

"Because everyone I know invariably learns how to close me out when I tell," she responded seriously. He waved a hand to dismiss the notion as though it hadn't even occurred to him.

"Come on, I want another look at that file Johnson turned down. I think we'll be able to pull it off with this little advantage!" He pulled her up from the seat, and seemed about to head to the fireplace when he realized that he was still in pajama bottoms. "Chill for a sec, I'll be right out," he said abruptly, pushing her out the door so he could change. He could hear her laughter through the closed door.

A week later found them halfway to California in the Aurory's prettiest little convertible, disagreeing heatedly over the merits of the plan they'd formed. "This is ridiculous. I don't know any of these dances. I've never been to a club like this. I wouldn't know how to act if this were entirely social, much less well enough to fool a suspect!" Mur was smiling widely in spite of her agitation as the wind whipped her hair around her face. They'd spent the week perfecting this little farce, purchasing what Jas referred to as 'clubbing clothes,' and avoiding discussion of the one part of the plan that rankled with both of them. It had been their busiest time since Muriel had arrived.

"You'll know what to do when we get there. We'll go to a rave or two before we tackle the place Patterson frequents." His words were meant to be gentle, but hollering over the wind made him sound annoyed and he grimaced, expecting retribution. Mur only grinned, hearing his thoughts more clearly than his words anyway.

She was relieved to find that Jas was entirely correct. After two late nights at different clubs in LA, she felt more relaxed than she could remember in recent history. There was only one small difficulty she could see on the horizon, and as they pulled back into their hotel at 3am, she decided she'd better dispel the awkwardness before they had a more authentic altercation than they'd planned.

"Jas?" She whispered his name as he made toward his door, and he stopped. Neither had been foolish enough to drink that night, so he was surprised to see her looking rather bashful, almost as if –

"Would you come in for a minute?" she asked, cutting off his thoughts. He thought he saw the hint of her usual smirk, as though she'd been listening in on his thoughts again, but it was gone an instant later.

"Sure." She watched as he sat himself uncomfortably in the chair next to the floor lamp. She was struck again by how different he was from those she'd cared about back home, and Sirius' elegant form flashed before her eyes. She knew instantly that Jas had caught the look of pain that crossed her face.

"Jas, I need to explain why I was so startled when you kissed me," she began, pacing as she spoke. For some reason it didn't feel at all right to seat herself on the bed as she told Jas about Sirius, the postponed wedding, and her unwillingness to do anything that might upset him when she finally completed her tasks here and headed home.

Jas, as she'd expected, took it all in stride. He was, after all, supremely uninterested. Which, of course, begged the question of why he'd ever kissed her in the first place. In a rare moment of tact, she chose not to voice that question.

"I can respect that," he said, as soon as she fell silent. "But I've still got to kiss you tomorrow night, or the plan's toast." Smug was not a look that suited his chiseled face, in Muriel's opinion.

Nevertheless, she nodded. "Keep your tongue to yourself," she demanded wryly, earning herself another dazzling grin.

"Whatever you say, Beautiful." He stood swiftly and kissed her, careful to keep himself within the guideline she'd laid out. Careful, as well, to draw out the kiss as far as possible within that guideline. "G'night, then." The door opened and closed and he was gone, leaving Mur to wonder what she'd gotten herself into.

When they arrived at their third club in as many nights, she could feel that he was as nervous as she, though he hid it well. The loud music and body heat was now familiar to her, and he wound his fingers with hers and pulled her to the bar, taking pleasure in the jealous glances he received from several of the more observant males.

Leather encased men abounded, but Mur's mind sought out Patterson's thought pattern almost instantly. A week of pouring over his very detailed psycho- analytical report was enough to allow her to recognize him beyond doubt. She smiled seductively at Jas as he handed the bartender an unmarked bottle of firewhiskey, and he stuttered over his instructions to serve it to no one but them. The bartender raised an eyebrow, and Jas slipped him a fifty. The bottle disappeared from sight, and a seedy grin on the man's whiskered face was the only indication that anything had taken place.

Her grin became a bit more natural when she caught him wondering what the hell she'd meant by THAT look. She only winked and pulled him toward the dance floor. If this was to work, they needed every action to be convincing. So they danced as the music pounded in their ears, and others on the dance floor copped feels here and there. At one point, Jas removed someone's hand from her waist with an angry glare. From then on, he kept both his hands in that position, presumably to keep anyone else from doing so.

The file indicated that Patterson usually left around 2, so at 1:30 AM, they began with the kissing. They'd been acting progressively less sober as the night wore on, though neither had touched a drop of their personal stash of alcohol. Mur was beginning to get annoyed – they'd been kissing, his hands roaming her back and her thighs, for quite some time. Patterson, she knew, had certainly noticed, as had most of the rest of the dancers. The frequent bumping they'd tolerated prior to this point had stopped entirely as others moved away from them. If Jas' mind hadn't been entirely focused on subtly dancing closer to Patterson's table, she might have hexed him then and there, muggles or none!

When he pulled away suddenly, she almost wasn't prepared. "Damn, budiful, you kiss 'most as well as a man!" He slurred his words and spoke loudly enough to get nearly everyone's attention, even over the music. Thankfully her hesitation was taken for shock, and soon enough she pushed him roughly away.

"Why you - ! How could you possibly - ?" she stuttered angrily. She cast about for anything to hurt him with, the anger on her face visible from the bar. Her hand landed on a shot glass at the nearest table, which, conveniently, belonged to Patterson. With a swift flick of her wrist, she splashed its contents in Jas' face.

He sputtered for a minute, then raised his hand as if to slap her, letting the confused expression he'd been wearing shift into anger. A tense moment passed before his hand fell back to his side unused, though he still looked furious. The crowd parted for him as he fled the club entirely, dripping some foul concoction and snarling at anyone who met his gaze.

When the door swung shut behind him, Mur looked at the glass in her hand, then shattered it angrily on the floor. An instant later she looked contrite, and whirled around to go before just HAPPENING to notice that she'd taken that glass from someone.

She locked gazes with Patterson and grimaced, as if embarrassed. His sky blue eyes held no accusation, but perhaps a smidge of pity, if she'd taken the time to look for it. After all, they HAD chosen the most insulting thing a woman could hear from her boyfriend.

"Look – I'm sorry about that," she mumbled as the crowd resumed dancing. The music had not faltered, but it hadn't stopped everyone staring. "Can I – buy you another?" she tried to sound apologetic, but disinterested, and was pleased when he pulled out an empty chair.

"Sure, toots, have a seat."

She motioned to the bartender to bring over 3 shots of her firewhiskey, rather afraid to ask for only two, as that gesture was such an insult back home. When the drinks arrived, she tossed back her first and handed the shot glass back to the waitress before she could leave. Patterson looked impressed. Naturally he recognized the drink as magical in origin.

"So what's an inebriated witch like you doing with a fag like that?"

Mur sipped at her second shot, and looked Patterson up and down, suppressing her surge of anger at his terminology. Late 40s, she figured, and still in decent shape, though he didn't dress quite as provocatively as the younger crowd dancing around them. His mind was an open book, because he thought he was in no danger. The plan was proceeding brilliantly.

"He only likes men when he's drunk. He'll down a potion when he gets home and be back here to find me in 20 minutes. Happens every couple of weeks." Her response was bitter, with just enough anger remaining in her tone to make the older man smirk. "Not as if he's much good without me, after all," she added, faking a hiccup.

"Oh?" Patterson asked noncommittally. Mur clamed up, as though that wasn't anything she was supposed to reveal. Naturally, he pressed her, then. As they chatted, following the script from the office so closely that it was disconcerting, she let her mind wander a bit.

The boss had been thrilled to hear that she was a natural legilimens. There was no chance that she'd be mistaken about suspects, and she and Jas didn't have to be concerned with getting a confession before bringing someone in. She had only to make him THINK about what he'd done. Once she had that, a nice dose of veritaserum would take care of the confession. Yanks weren't nearly as squeamish when it came to veritaserum as Brits, apparently.

The conversation turned to the train wreck he was suspected to have caused three weeks previous, and it was obvious instantly that he was guilty. As soon as she thought it appropriate, she turned the conversation. Even as she suggested throatily that they apparate to her hotel room, she sent a thought to Jas to let him know they were on their way. Patterson was happy to comply, and thirty minutes later found him wandless and bound, and taking a portkey to D.C. for another drink of clear liquid.

The drive back to the East coast was giddy for Mur. It had been a perfect success, and they'd accomplished it in record time. A party was thrown upon their return, which Johnson did not attend. And, perhaps most importantly, the Modus Operandi for this case was instantly known as their specialty. Mur thought Jas seemed extraordinarily pleased about this.

The flurry of activity that followed kept them both out of the apartment for the better part of four months, working on various missions. Before Mur knew what had happened, she'd been in America nearly a year, still with no word from her friends or family. It was at this point that life slowed down enough for her to relax for a few days. The first thing she did was make Jas activate the little radio he'd bought her for Christmas before he could leave again for his vacation. And nearly the first thing she heard was devastating.


Back from a rather unproductive trip to visit his father, Jas slammed the door to the apartment and then the door to his bedroom as well. He lay on the bed over an hour, thinking back on the three days he'd spent at home. His stepfather had publicly disapproved of his lifestyle since he'd been in high school, so that hadn't been any surprise. The surprise had been that his aunt was dead, and no one really knew exactly what had killed her. Needless to say, his father had remembered Jas' childhood accusations of abuse and summarily determined that he was to blame. A troubling suspicion had entered his mind almost immediately, but he suppressed it.

As he thought, something else wormed its way into his overwrought mind. The shower had been running the entire time he'd been home. Twisting his face into the scowl he'd worn for the last three days, he knocked loudly on the bathroom door and received no answer. It was then it hit him: a wave of despair that was beyond anything he'd felt in the last hour. He understood immediately that it came from his partner, and hesitated only a moment before trying the door.

He was surprised to find it both unlocked and unwarded. He was even more surprised to find his partner curled into a ball on the floor of the shower, hugging her knees to her bare chest as the water, long since cold, coursed over her head. His troubles were instantly forgotten as he reached into the shower to turn off the water. The word 'hypothermia,' flashed through his mind, and he didn't even bother to try and reason with her. Pain was buffeting his mind now, along with fuzzy images, as though she was purposely trying NOT to focus on them.

He lifted her slippery form into his arms with some difficulty and carried her back to her bed, barely noticing as the water soaked through his clothing. Once there, he set her gently on her feet and cast a drying and heating charm over her. She began to shiver violently even as the words left his lips. His arms were still around her waist, and he lifted her unresisting form onto her bed. However, as soon as he removed his hands, she sprung into action, grasping both his forearms in a vice-like grip. "Stay," she rasped. "Stay, Jas."

He gathered her wordlessly back into his arms, pulling the blanket around her and whispering another warming charm on it. Then he waited. She would tell him when she was ready.

He was relieved when she promptly fell asleep, and he was able to summon a second blanket and cover her more thoroughly. He'd been surprised how uncomfortable his jeans had become when he'd realized he was holding a naked woman. He'd never done so before and hadn't thought it would have such an effect on him. Not that he EVER intended to admit to it. She'd just move out.

He awoke several hours later, alone in her bed, his clothing clinging damply to his skin. The room was dark, but he could see a silhouette by the window, stalk still, and obviously dressed in formal wizarding robes. He sat up. "What is it, Beautiful?" he whispered.

Surprised out of her thoughts, Mur turned from the window and knelt quickly by the bed. Jas could just make out the pained expression on her face. "I've got to go, Jas," she replied quietly. "I've got to go home." In a hushed voice, she explained that, though the war in Europe was over, her friends needed her. "Potter and Pettigrew are dead. Potter left behind a one year old child. Remus will probably be raising him alone, since he's all that's left of the marauders – "

Jas waited. He'd heard all about the marauders long ago, and there was one she wasn't mentioning. "What about Sirius?" he asked finally.

A sob tore from her throat and her head fell heavily onto the bed. "He's in Azkaban," she gasped weakly. "I have to go to him." And before Jas could summon the nerve to ask her to stay, she was striding from the room, robes swirling and snapping behind her. He heard the sound of her disapparating a moment later. With a sigh, he threw off the blanket and went to his own room to change, pulling her door softly shut behind him.

It was Halloween before the door to her room was opened again. "What the hell?" a deep voice asked, confusion obvious in the man's tone. Jas stuck his head out of the kitchen, where he'd been digging for a frozen pizza.

His usually playful expression hardened. "Leave that door closed, please," he requested tightly. He knew it had been a mistake to bring the man home from the club the previous night. But the stress of working alone had been getting to him, not to mention the difficulty of making excuses for his absent partner and dealing with Johnson's quiet smugness.

But his latest conquest was gaping into the unlit room in shock. Jas hadn't moved any of Mur's things, and she hadn't taken anything with her. Naturally it was obvious that a woman lived, or had once lived, in that room. But that wasn't the only reason the man was intrigued. "You told me you weren't seeing anyone," he said accusingly, turning back to Jas, who was now striding across the living room, determined to force that door shut again.

He heard it before he arrived: the little radio that had been the only sound in his apartment besides himself for the last four months had been changed to a different channel. He knew this because he'd listened to it from outside her bedroom door on several occasions, trying to catch any news of her that the European WWN might report. He'd never heard anything of interest. Now, however, music was playing from it.

Wake me up before you go go,
Don't leave me hanging on like a yo-yo.
Wake me up before you go go,
I don't wanna miss it when you hit that high

Wake me up before you go go,
'Cause I'm not planning on going solo.
Wake me up before you go go,
Take me dancing tonight.
I wanna hit that high...


But as the song played, much too quietly for dance music, he could hear the sound of someone crying softly in the background. Without a word he wrenched to doorknob from the man's hand and cast a quick spell to light the room.

Mur looked up from her bed and squinted as the light hit her tired face. Blood dripped through her fingers as she clutched at a nasty gash on her arm. Her robes were torn and dirty, and her face was smeared with dirt. She thought sourly that she should have known better than to apparate into the apartment. But she'd had nowhere else to go.

Jas stifled a gasp and vaulted onto the bed, catching her in a tight hug. Mur whimpered slightly when his arm put pressure on her wound, and he pulled back. She caught the question in his eyes and willed her tears to stop. "Dementors," she whispered by way of explanation.

Jas' head snapped back towards the door. The muggle he'd brought home was gaping at them, opened mouthed. He looked completely flummoxed. 'Of course he does, dipshit,' Jas scolded himself, after all, just last night he'd assured the man that he was gay, and now he was sitting in a woman's bed, pulling off his own shirt to wrap her bloody arm.

He thought consciously that the man at the door was a muggle, hoping Mur was paying enough attention to catch the thought. He finished tying the shirt around her arm, then kissed her softly. "Just a sec," he whispered before retreating from the room.

Three minutes later he'd obliviated the unsuspecting muggle and led him into the hallway. "Sorry, no one by that name lives here, and we haven't ordered anything lately," he said, his voice carefully neutral. "Maybe try the next floor up?" He closed the door in the man's bemused face and all but dashed back into Mur's room.

Mur laid back carefully as she waited, replaying the last several months in her head. She's tried to floo back to the ministry office in London first, to no avail. Always the network spun her right past the correct fireplaces. The guard in D.C. had eventually asked her to quit tying up the network. In response, she'd flooed to the ministry in Italy and apparated from there to the Casa, only to find that her childhood summer home was closed to her. Only barely had she escaped the wrath of the Fontana.

She'd spent a frustrating week in Italy, trying to contact her Aunt Rosa. No one from the Casa answered, and she wondered futilely if her aunt had ever returned from St. Mungo's. Her father had caught up with her at a local café. That's when she'd discovered the tracking charm. He must have placed it on her ages ago, when he'd first left her in America. To say she was furious would have been an understatement. The Italian ministry had fined them both heavily as a result of their impromptu duel in the middle of the muggle establishment. In the end, Papa had grudgingly allowed her access to the Casa, though he removed all the fireplaces from the floo network entirely beforehand.

She'd demanded an explanation, of course. He had given her none, except to say that it wasn't safe. He'd gone so far as to say that his mark hadn't left him. The dark lord wasn't really dead. Mur didn't believe that for a minute. She'd screamed, cried and hexed, all to no avail. He wasn't going to let her get anywhere near London.

She'd tried to send letters to Remus and Severus. She'd even sent one to Lucius Malfoy. When no response came, she knew her father was intercepting them somehow. In the end, she'd left the Casa in a huff.

But Papa followed her. She tried several more times to get to her friends. Each time he'd appear a few moments behind her, chasing her to the next place. She couldn't manage to even catch a glimpse of Lucius or Severus, since you couldn't apparate directly to Malfoy Manor. And hurried questions of strangers as to Remus' whereabouts were met with confusion. Finally, in a fit of rage and despair, she'd apparated directly to Azkaban prison. Casting an invisibility charm over herself, she took one of the boats tethered onshore and made her way across.

She saw her mistake now. She hadn't counted on the dementors. Of course they would be more dangerous to her, who couldn't restrain her emotions, than to anyone else. She'd felt his mind as she approached the shore, and her heart had leapt. She would get him out of there. Together they would overpower the dementors and escape back to America. She'd been foolish. The dementors' effect on her had prevented her even summoning a wispy patronus, let alone a useful one. If Papa hadn't turned up, she would surely have been administered the kiss. As it was, she escaped with her mind intact, but her wand snapped in two by her irate father. He'd sent her back to D.C, broken and wandless, without another word. She'd immediately apparated back to the apartment, unwilling to let her other co- workers see her in this state.

Tears coursed from the corners of her eyes down over her ears, dripping from her earlobes into her hair. Dead: Potter, Lily, and even pathetic little Pettigrew. All dead. Remus had obviously withdrawn from society in his grief. And Sirius. The thought of him locked in a cell, surrounded by those filthy, ice-cold wraiths froze her heart. Sirius, who was only concerned with teasing and pranks. Sirius, who was all about stolen kisses at the lakeshore and watching over Remus and rolling his eyes when she refused to show him her wedding dress. Sirius, who would never, ever, in a million years, do what they claimed he had done.

It wasn't that she thought he wouldn't kill Peter if there were good cause. Of course he would. It wasn't that she thought he particularly gave a damn about any muggles in the way, either. But the idea that Sirius Black would hand the Potters over to Riddle was preposterous. It could never have happened that way.

Mur forced her eyes open again as she heard Jas return to the room, still shirtless and looking worried. She sat up and pulled her wand from her pocket, tossing the splintered wood to the foot of the bed.

"Need some help, then?" he asked gently. He cast a cleaning charm or two, then did his best to heal her arm. She was surprised that he wasn't demanding explanations, and gratefully remained silent. He pushed her back gently and snuggled onto the bed beside her, on top of her covers, throwing an arm around her waist.

She slept fitfully, glad he'd not left the room. When she awoke in the morning he was gone. A once-frozen pizza had thawed on the counter, leaving a pool of water beneath the cardboard. She threw it away with a wry smile before her eyes caught the calendar. This was Wednesday. She was supposed to be at work. Twenty minutes later she was standing outside her office. Jas was sitting before the filing cabinet, digging for something.

Several people had accosted her on her way up from the apparation point and congratulated her on last night's success. Now, she hadn't been involved in last night's work, but she wasn't annoyed. In fact, it had been kind of Jas to handle things himself while she was gone. She hadn't meant to be gone so long, in truth, but then, she didn't realize that she was getting into a battle of wills with her father when she'd set off, either.

She watched him for a moment, thinking back to the first song she'd heard on her little wizarding radio when she returned. Then she cast a charm covertly in the direction of the stereo system he insisted on keeping on the shelf over his desk. It sprung to life abruptly, the words of the song spilling out into the hallway, making her grin only moments before he looked up.

You put the boom boom into my heart,
You send my soul sky-high when your lovin' starts.
Jitterbug into my brain,
Goes bang bang bang till my feet do the same.
But something's bugging me
Something ain't right
My best friend told me
What you did last night.
Left me sleeping
In my bed.
I was dreaming
But I should've been with you instead.

Wake me up before you go go,
Don't leave me hanging on like a yo-yo.
Wake me up before you go go,
I don't wanna miss it when you hit that high

Wake me up before you go go,
'Cause I'm not planning on going solo.
Wake me up before you go go,
Take me dancing tonight.
I wanna hit that high...

You get the gray skies outta my way,
You make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day.
Turn a bright spark into a flame,
My beats per minute never been the same.
'Cause you're my lady,
I'm your fool.
Makes me crazy
When you act so cruel.
C'mon baby,
Let's not fight.
We'll go dancing
And everything will be alright.

Wake me up before you go go,
Don't leave me hanging on like a yo-yo.
Wake me up before you go go,
I don't wanna miss it when you hit that high

Wake me up before you go go,
'Cause I'm not planning on going solo.
Wake me up before you go go,
Take me dancing tonight.

I wanna hit that high...


They'd heard the song countless times, played at nearly every club they'd frequented in the past year. She marveled again at how easy it was to smile with Jas around. He was grinning back at her, and by the time the second verse started, he'd upped the volume and joined her in the hallway, pulling her into a steady jitterbug that seemed to come second nature to both of them after all the time they'd spent dancing.

Johnson stuck his head out of his office as they went by and scowled. She was back. He looked around at the other aurors on their floor who'd also been gazing out their office doors, then shrugged. A moment later he made the rounds, pressing fivers into the hands of several smug witches who'd bet him that Muriel Deesia would be back in less than 6 months. He was having a very bad morning.

Settling back into the routine was easy. Mur told Jas about her attempts to reach Sirius, how angry she was with her father, and how most everyone else seemed to have disappeared. He agreed to help her, and they decided to try again next summer. Several years went by swiftly in this manner. Ten solid months of dangerous work catching a young generation of dark wizards, followed by two months of trying to outsmart Mr. Deesia. Then, often, a week or two in the private hospital set aside specifically for aurors.

Five years after her arrival in America, just after her annual attempt to reach London, or Azkaban, or both, had failed again, Mur had another breakdown. She made it through the expected hospital stay, though she hardly thought four stunning spells should require a three-night admission. She'd had worse, after all. Jas had taken her to purchase a new wand, as her father routinely snapped hers at the end of these little excursions to prevent her trying again right away.

He'd been a little concerned about the shouted conversation that Mur had maintained with her father as they dueled. It was obvious to him that she'd reached the end of her patience with the man, and Mr. Deesia must have realized it as well, as he'd called in reinforcements for the first time. Jas watched her carefully as the shopkeeper handed her wand after wand.

"You have to WANT to do something with the wand, or naturally none of them will perform for you!" The elderly woman was becoming exasperated.

"What the hell difference does it make?" Muriel exclaimed suddenly, chucking the most recent failure back at the shopkeeper in fury. "It isn't as if this wand will be any more likely to get me what I want!" She left the shop hurriedly, tears already coursing down her face. She brushed them away violently in her anger.

Jas spared the shopkeeper an apologetic glance before chasing after his partner. There was no sign of her when he emerged from the building, but five years of continual proximity to her had taught him that there were better ways to track her down. He opened his mind, trying to sense the kind of pain he assumed she would be projecting. Then he apparated to the location.

His arms shot out of their own accord, taking her by the shoulders before she threw back a shot glass of Titania-knew-what kind of alcohol. The only wizarding bar in the vicinity. He should have guessed. With a swift movement, he turned her around and pulled her to him. She sagged into his embrace without resistance, trying her best to stifle her sobs. He would have apparated her directly home if the mirror in his pocket hadn't started emitting a whirring noise.

"Hey, Beautiful, that's the big man's signal," he whispered, ignoring the curious eyes that had turned to them when he'd arrived. "You okay to go to the office?" Several shaky breaths later, she nodded, then looked up to meet his eyes.

She was still staring at him when they arrived back in D.C. for what looked to be a big case, but lowered her forehead to his shoulder when she realized they weren't alone. She hated to be seen crying. Johnson, Ragan and Hensel were already present. Johnson looked rather shocked to see Jas holding Mur as if she'd fall down were he to let go, but didn't comment.

"Let's make this quick, shall we? We left the dishy convertible parallel parked in Chicago," Jas said flippantly. This earned him a sharp glare from the fat man. But he felt Mur grin against his shoulder and decided it was worth it.

In spite of his obvious annoyance, the boss did as Jas requested. "You've all heard of Lowry?" he asked, not expecting an answer. "Word came in this morning that he was seen in New Mexico. Three aurors were killed today trying to bring him in. Hensel here says that the suspect appeared to know exactly what they were long before they'd done anything to blow their cover." He was gazing intently at Mur and Jas. Mur could feel the weight of his stare on the back of her head, but ignored him as the ramifications of that slithered through her mind. Another natural legilimens?

"Lowry's in his 130s, isn't he?" Johnson was asking. "We can take him. Send Ragan and me."

"How's your Occlumency, Dick?" Jas asked casually, a particularly wicked grin creeping over his face. Mur shook a bit, laughing silently, and causing his grin to widen in spite of himself.

Johnson scowled. The others ignored him. "Victoria isn't going without me," Hensel said abruptly, referring to Ragan. "It's too dangerous!"

"Oh, and I'm safer with you than my own partner?" she shot back, obviously not in the mood to be coddled. At this point, Jas felt Mur's hand in his rear pocket, fishing for his wand. He winced unconsciously at his body's reaction and stepped away from her. It wouldn't do for her to notice that. Thankfully she'd already acquired what she wanted, and the lovers' quarrel had barely proceeded another sentence before she'd hexed them into silence. It seemed the usual day-to-day operations of her job were enough to pull her out of the funk she'd been in since their botched rescue attempt.

She looked to the fat man as she handed Jas his wand back, then smirked and picked up the file on the desk in front of him, ignoring the angry glares from her fellow aurors. She pretended to flip through it, all the while taking the really important information from the boss' head. Then she turned her attention to Hensel, who'd just lost his partner. In his mind was a clear picture of the suspect as he'd last been seen. Intriguing. From what she could glean, the decrepit man was truly a natural legilimens, and one with a great deal more power than she currently possessed. Her smirk deepened and she stuck the folder under her arm. Perhaps this was the means to besting the guardians of Azkaban prison.

"See you next week," she called over her shoulder as she led Jas back out of the meeting room. "Back to the wand shop, then," she whispered as soon as he'd closed the office door. She was already forming a plan of how Jas could be removed, with very little actual pain, from this case so that she could talk to the suspect alone.

The drive from Chicago to New Mexico was nothing like their first cross- country trip to California all those years ago. Jas could sense that Mur was distracted. Even when she dozed fitfully as he drove, she seemed to be radiating discontent. "Hey, Beautiful," he muttered, poking her in the ribs to wake her as he downshifted to pull into another run down gas station. She pulled herself up slowly and yawned before meeting his eyes.

"He's not in New Mexico anymore," she said quietly. Jas stared at her for a moment, then opened the door and began pumping gas.

She'd thought about it the entire trip. She could not injure her own partner to get a chance to talk to the aging legilimens. But she also couldn't let him come with her. His mind was too open. She smiled wryly and leaned out her window, shivering a bit. Night had fallen in earnest as she dozed, and as hot as it was during the day, the darkness brought an unexpected chill to the desert. She was glad Jas had put the top back up.

Jas glanced at her, noticed her cleavage, and looked away, which made her laugh. He rolled his eyes and laughed a bit as well, but she'd already fallen silent.

"You're a liability, Jas," Mur said as he replaced the nozzle and started digging in his pockets for cash.

Trying not to be offended by that statement, Jas remained silent as he counted out the money. But when he turned to walk toward the shop, she stopped him. "Wait," she whispered. Something in the tone of her voice made him turn back around. He'd caught a glimpse of the old shopkeeper glaring at him suspiciously, as though he was afraid they'd pull out without paying, and didn't want to upset him.

Mur was at his side in an instant. "He's not in New Mexico," she whispered again, her gray eyes bright. And suddenly he knew what she was saying, though she'd been careful not to let any thoughts stray out of her head. He swore, and she smiled.

"He'll talk to me, Jas, because he's intrigued. It's the only reason he hasn't killed us yet." Out of the corner of her eye, Mur saw the old man come to the doorway, the suspicious look still planted firmly on his sagging features. "But he won't talk to you. Take the car and go."

If Jas noticed the wand she held casually at her side, and the veiled threat in her tone, he didn't show it. Instead he leaned down and placed a lingering kiss on her lips, pressing the money into her other hand. "What will I tell them?" he whispered.

"You've got a great imagination. Come up with something." He nodded, his eyes still boring into hers as she pocketed her latest wand and winked at him. He watched as she walked toward the shop, handing the money to the old man, who shook his head disgustedly and closed the door behind her.

Jas didn't see his partner again for over three weeks. The entire American Aurory had been up in arms when he'd arrived home with the story that the old man had stunned him and taken Mur. It was perfect, really. He could tell the boss that he thought he felt her mind in a location far from where he guessed they were, and most of the department would be sent there. He'd even earned himself three days in Hawaii for his trouble.

He was far from surprised when she apparated into the office building, dripping blood onto the pristine tile, four floors below their office. He'd been headed to the break room when he heard the sound, and looked down over the railing in time to see her collapse. He was beside her with a sharp CRACK an instant later, and not long after that everyone else appeared as well, alerted by the noise. He gathered her up into his arms and made a show of fussing over her, though he suspected her injuries were self-inflicted.

Sure enough, when he took her to the hospital, they were mostly harmless wounds that bled a great deal, but could be healed almost instantly. "Well?" he asked, trying to keep his voice even. It had taken four hours to get the boss, the nurses, the co-workers, and the press to leave them in peace, and now he wanted some answers.

Mur scowled at him. "I agreed to tell them I had killed him in exchange for the things he taught me these past three weeks," she answered, trying to sound unconcerned. This was the only law breaking that she'd ever admitted to Jas, and she was more than a little worried that he'd turn her in. It was for exactly that reason that she'd never mentioned her experiences with (giving or taking) the cruciatus curse, or her brief trip to see his aunt.

Jas swore quietly to himself and walked over to the window. "If they catch him, you're as good as dead," he whispered after a long silence. Mur smiled wanly.

"They'll never catch him. No more than they could catch me." Her voice was colder than she'd intended, more dangerous. Jas didn't turn to look at her, and she thought she'd better explain. "It might just get me past the dementors, Jas. That's all I'll use it for, I swear." She hadn't intended to plead like that, but he was still of two minds. She didn't want him to turn her in. But she also didn't want him to think less of her. She hadn't realized just how important that was until the words escaped her lips.

She bit her bottom lip as she awaited some sign from her partner. When he finally turned and grinned at her, she released a long, unsteady breath. "Don't make me promises like that, Beautiful. You know you won't keep them," he said happily, thumping himself down on the side of her bed. Mur couldn't tell if he meant that as a joke, or if he really knew she wouldn't keep that promise and just didn't care. She decided that for right now it didn't matter.

She let him take her hand and sat grinning at him and chatting for quite a while before yet another reporter pushed his way into the room and began another round of questions. Jas made a hasty retreat, then, to prepare the apartment. She'd be home tomorrow, he was sure.

Things went back to normal for a while when Mur got out of the hospital. Aside from the occasional reporter prying his way into their office as a result of such a high profile case, their paperwork days were quiet. They knocked around the apartment in the evenings, when Jas didn't go out dancing. Or prowling, as Mur had come to refer to it.

"You haven't brought anyone home for a while, Jas. Aren't you lonely?"

Jas looked up from the ice cream he'd been eating enthusiastically with a strange expression on his face. Mur raised an eyebrow. "No one could be lonely with you in the pad, Beautiful," he responded, a bit more seriously than he'd intended.

Mur shook her head. What did he mean by that? "Not much of a bachelor pad with me here, is it?" she asked finally. Her tone was apologetic.

Jas glanced back down at his ice cream, up at her, then back down. He was just sure it was a trick question. If he agreed with her, she'd think he wanted her to move out. If he didn't agree with her, she'd demand to know why he hadn't had a boyfriend in the last two years. This was EXACTLY why he never wanted to date a woman.

When he looked up again he was relieved to find her laughing at him. She must have heard his thoughts. "Alright, jeez, forget I said anything," she exclaimed, grinning. He jumped up from the table, his ice cream forgotten.

"Come on, put on your dancing clothes. We're going out," he said quickly, shoving her playfully in the direction of her bedroom door. He listened to her laugh as she changed. It was about time they got to dance without having to worry about dark wizards. It would also keep her busy enough that she didn't have time to ask difficult questions.

The months passed. Jas noticed that Mur wrote fewer letters as time went on. For years she'd written eight every week. Two each for Remus, Severus, her father, and someone named Marisa. Occasionally she'd write to others as well, Macnair, Malfoy, and McDouglas were just a few of the other names he'd seen on her mail. Lately she'd barely written three letters each week.

Then one day, seven years after her original appearance in America, she received a box. She'd been out that day, doing paperwork in the office while Jas stayed home to recuperate from an obscure hex that made him alternate between deaf and blind every half hour. Thankfully the box didn't need to be signed for, and he heard the delivery person ring the bell.

Half an hour later, when he could see again, he dragged the box into the apartment and opened it, not noticing that it wasn't for him. After all, Mur had never before received mail, other than owl post from the Aurory. She didn't know anyone who'd use UPS. He was shocked at what he found inside. It appeared to be every letter she'd written all these years. They were sorted by addressee, and all he could do was shake his head and hope that he was deaf instead of blind when she got home and saw them. He was sure the hexes were going to fly.

Following the arrival of this package, Mur's depression began to take its toll. There was no note included, but the point was clear. There was no chance that she would get home while her father was watching. She read through the letters periodically, and nothing Jas could say would bring her out of her moods. Work was conducted as it had been during their first year as partners. Stoically, with no talk outside facts about the case.

An odd look from Johnson in the cafeteria one day had her practically dripping venom, and Jas had to physically take her wand to stop her from making good on a seven year old promise. As for Johnson, he'd long since decided that Mur was the freak in that show, and he didn't give a damn what Jas did in his spare time anymore. Most of the others had come to a similar conclusion.

It had been four years since the last time Muriel Deesia had tried to get home, over ten years since she'd been banished. She spoke only to Jas, and shunned the cafeteria, preferring to apparate to China Town each and every lunch hour on the rare occasions that they worked in the office. So everyone was surprised when, for no apparent reason, she approached Johnson in the break room.

"Jas tells me you're tolerably good at potions," she intoned, sounding bored. Johnson only nodded. "Can you make me a clarity of mind potion that'll last half an hour?"

"Sure, Deesia," Johnson said warily. Her dull tone of voice and bored expression were completely contrary to the girl he'd seen dancing through the hallway with the class clown only a few years before. She reminded him of his cousin, a half blood who'd moved to England when they were young. Tara had been her name. She'd been a Slytherin, and her bored tone of voice had always meant trouble.

Mur caught each and every thought out of his head and held it like a treasure close to her heart. She was STILL a Slytherin at heart. She could still be as coldly impassive as Severus if the need arose. She could still plot and scheme and get what she wanted. The knowledge filled her with a cold sort of joy.

But what did she want? To break an insane man out of Azkaban prison and live her life running from people like Jas Smith? That had been her goal all this time. Even now, she was only experimenting with this damned potion in the hopes that she could someday restore the memory she'd stolen from Sirius.

When the potion was complete, she tried the Arithmancy spells she'd been developing. None of them worked quite right. After extracting six more batches of the stuff from a very reluctant Johnson, she managed one that worked, and was astounded by all the things she remembered. The fat boss at the office was thrilled, and her job description changed overnight.

She and Jas traveled all over The States, and sometimes to other countries as well, though if she got too close to England, her father invariably appeared. He'd tried to hex her the first time, and she'd dodged it, not bothering to draw her own wand. "I'm here on auror's business, Papa," she'd explained wearily. "There's a witch in that house whose been hit with a memory charm, and I've come up with a potion to help her."

Her father had lowered his wand and watched as she turned her back on him and walked toward the house she'd indicated, her shoulders hunched in defeat. Jas had stared at the man until he had his attention. "Still with her?" her father had asked.

"She still loves him," Jas whispered in response. Mr. Deesia nodded, though he had no idea if the boy meant Severus or Sirius. In the end it didn't matter. She couldn't have either one. Sirius had turned out to be a traitor to the Order and a murderer of unparalleled depravity. Severus had taken the mark and turned out to be every bit the twisted death eater his father had intended for him to be. Mr. Deesia had watched the young man he'd tried to save commit the same atrocities that he himself had committed and regretted. No. His beautiful daughter could have neither of them. She was only safe if she stayed away.

Jas watched as day after day went by with his partner locked in her room, typing on the computer she'd purchased. He didn't have any idea in the world how to help her. He was grateful when the fat man in D.C. came up with a new assignment for them, one that would let them use their old M.O. One that would give him a good excuse to hold her close to him and kiss her until she couldn't think about her sadness anymore.

He told her about the assignment and she seemed pleased. But when she finally emerged from her room, ready for the short car ride to Jersey, something fundamental had changed. No shadow of the grin he'd grown accustomed to could be found on her face. When he smiled at her, he got only a nod in response, much as it had been on that first night, when the boss man had introduced them.

He watched her send his owl off with a thick envelope. "A book," she explained quietly. "A single man was responsible for over 85% of the memory charms we've fixed in the last few years, and I wanted to write about it." She paused, then tilted her head up to look in his eyes. He realized with a start that he hadn't seen her eyes in so long that he'd forgotten their color. "It's finished now. I'm ready. Let's go." Without another word she headed for the door.

The club was packed, and the music was loud. It was everything it had always been, and yet so very different. He held her hand as he gave the bartender the bottle of firewhiskey, but there were no envious glances. Mur looked absolutely edible in the latest fashion, yet she also looked distinctly unhappy. A thought flitted through his head that she wouldn't have to act much after he insulted her tonight, and her eyes flashed over his angrily. An instant later she smiled shyly. It wasn't the usual grin that lit up her face, but it was an effort, and he smiled back, hoping she wasn't just humoring him.

They'd hardly begun to dance when he took her face in his hands and kissed her softly. He was more than surprised when she kissed him back. He'd never broken from her demand that he keep his tongue to himself, but it seemed she'd changed her mind. Now that she'd begun it, he allowed himself to kiss her fully, his fingers running back through her hair to pull her closer to him.

Swept away in the moment, he allowed her to dance close. He was aware that she would feel his body's response to the way she was kissing him, but for once he didn't care. Still, it was he who pulled away first, though how many songs had played while they kissed he wasn't sure. "Sweet Merlin, Beautiful, what are you doing to me?" he whispered into her hair.

Mur didn't answer. They hadn't bothered to dance any closer to their suspect. It didn't matter. He was sitting at a corner table talking about what he'd done with the pretty blond beside him. She already knew he was guilty. Instead she let her head rest on her partner's shoulder, willing herself not to cry. She had to get through this one last job. She'd already left instructions with the bank that all the paychecks she hadn't spent should be given to Jas, along with any money her book managed to make. She'd already written her last letter to Jas, as well as Papa, Severus and Sirius, not that it was likely to matter. Maybe they would get them someday. Jas would try to send them for her, she knew. All that was left was to finish this assignment, and the pain could be over.

With this in mind she bit back her tears and concentrated on dancing, subtly leading them toward their target. Jas kissed her again, and then said the line, slurring his words drunkenly.

Mur splashed the drink in his face and he snarled at her, though his eyes screamed that he wanted only to take her home and kiss her again. All in all it was the most unconvincing act they had ever attempted. Mur felt some slight satisfaction as she shattered the glass against the nearest wall. Then she cast a look at the suspect.

It wasn't the usual look of chagrin. Instead it was the angry glare that so many of her housemates had learned to avoid back in school. "Right," she snapped. "I suppose that was YOUR bloody drink." It wasn't a question. With a quick gesture, she brought the waitress scurrying over. "Bring me my bottle and three tumblers," she said haughtily. Then she plunked herself down uninvited beside the blond woman, who looked at her with a mixture of pity and fear.

When it arrived, she poured for the man she'd come to meet, letting him taste it before she moved on to the woman's glass. But the man spoke up before she could pour. "You wouldn't like this, Candi, why don't you go get yourself something a little better." He handed her a hundred dollar bill and she made her way to the bathroom. Mur assumed she was about to get high. Good. She wouldn't be back.

Wordlessly she poured herself a glass, threw it back and poured another. After three she began sipping. "What the hell are you doing here, Sineath," she asked finally, her voice dangerously quiet. The younger Slytherin eyed her warily.

"Getting drunk, but I see I'm not as good at it as I'd been led to believe," he responded dryly. No one had ever heard what happened to Severus Snape's betrothed, and the last place he'd expected to meet her was at a seedy dance club in Jersey.

"Tell me everything," she responded, polishing off her fourth glass. And he did. Everything he knew, he spilled.

"Snape got his Potions Mastery, though you probably guessed he would. Last I heard he was working at an apothecary in Diagon Alley, though it's been a while since I've seen him. He and Malfoy killed his father, though that happened before you left, so you might know that already. Macnair's working for the ministry disposing of dangerous magical creatures on the weekends. I hear he's teaching at Beaubaxton the rest of the time. The LeStranges are in Azkaban for using Crucio on the Longbottoms. Regalus Black is dead, and so are Rosier and Hinegardner. Crabbe and Goyle have both gotten married and have kids now. Chubby boys that can't even stay upright on the toy brooms that Malfoy bought them last Christmas. Malfoy's kid's doing alright, though. He's pretty swift. Lucius managed to salvage the family fortune by having his father declared mentally unstable. He's been giving money to charities and the ministry right and left, trying to prove he's a decent human being." Sineath paused and took a large swallow. Mur secretly wished he'd choke, but kept her expression neutral. Since her experiments with the memory potion, she'd forgiven Lucius. Apparently she was the only one.

"What about the marauders?" she asked as he poured himself another glass.

"Dead, most of them. The blondish one, Lupin? He disappeared after Potter died. Potter's brat disappeared, too, though we made sure he didn't have grandparents or any other wizarding family left, even if we couldn't get to him. Black killed Pettigrew for us, then laughed his ass off all the way to Azkaban, or so they say."

At this comment, Mur's glass, still half full, clanked down onto the table. Sineath's eyes widened involuntarily. "Bloody hell, Mur, I'm - I mean, I know you and Black were – "he continued to stutter, but she didn't hear him.

A slow smile was spreading over her face, and Sineath took that as his cue to get going. She laughed herself, then, for probably the first time in months. He stumbled out of his chair, far more drunk than he'd realized, and her hand shot out to grab his wrist. "Crash at my place tonight, mate," she said jovially, her face stretched into a grin that he would never have believed she was capable of.

"Black didn't do it, Jas!" she exclaimed four hours later. He was leaning heavily on the kitchen table as she paced, marveling at the change that had come over her. Sineath had been delivered to D.C. A more docile prisoner they'd never manage to find, since he thought he was headed to Muriel's house.

Mur was irrationally happy over the whole thing, as if this one contact from Hogwarts had somehow reminded her who she was. He listened as she began to plan her next attempt to get home.

That's when it dawned on him that home would always be somewhere else for her. Home was not the apartment they shared, and it never could be. He had known that for over 14 years, but it had never quite sunk in until just now. And he was surprised to find that he was cool with that. He'd never wanted a girlfriend before, and one decent kiss wasn't enough to change that. Yes, he loved her. He even loved kissing her. But it wasn't the kind of love that would have him waiting 14 years to see her again. And since she was capable of that kind of love, he knew that was the kind she deserved in return.

He grinned to himself and continued to watch her pace in silence. He was prepared to help her get back to her precious fiancé. Nearly a year was spent planning this last ditch effort to get home, and Jas was impressed in spite of himself. He'd expected her to go off half-cocked as she had the first time. But then, much had changed since then. Three days before they intended to leave, Mur was again pacing the kitchen, thinking through everything they were taking with them. He was watching her in amusement when she abruptly stopped pacing, looked at him with wide, frightened eyes, and disappeared soundlessly from his kitchen.

FIN

AN: Curious? Check out the next fic in the series, 11 Sorting Things Out. This is for all those who've been reading and really enjoyed my OC. Song by WHAM!