Far Away, for Far too Long

-

The great black dog lunged onto shore, his motions slow and ungainly after swimming countless hours. He collapsed above the tide line, his breathing laboured.

After twelve years of imprisonment, he was free.

Although tempted to shift, the wizard in Animagus form resisted the urge. The guards at Azkaban would have notified the Ministry of his escape by now. News articles and wanted posters would make his face recognisable to wizards and Muggles alike. It was too dangerous.

He was also afraid.

Not of being recaptured and imprisoned or executed. The fear was that emotions, now contained, would break free.

If he thought he would laugh, even as long and crazily as he had when Aurors found him on the street, unhinged at the realisation of all that was lost—he might have risked transformation.

He feared that he would weep. Sob uncontrollably from the mixture of joy and triumph, pain and rage that ravaged his soul. Cry until his meagre strength was gone and all he could do was curl up into a ball and sleep.

There was no time for such self-indulgent weakness.

Peter, the traitor, was at Hogwarts. No one knew he was alive and poised to act against Harry—except the one framed for his crimes so many years ago. The friend betrayed…whose determination to commit the murder he was imprisoned for had empowered him to escape and swim to the mainland.

He was painfully thin, tired and weak from hunger, but the fire in his heart compelled him to rise to his feet. In the night sky, the Dog Star shone brightly.

Sirius Black took his bearings and padded northward.

-

She kept his wanted poster pinned to the community board in the pub. The Daily Prophet might claim 'the most infamous prisoner ever to be held in Azkaban fortress' was mad, but Rosmerta knew she was the one who was acting mental.

It literally hurt, to see sunken cheeks and matted hair, when she remembered how he used to be, handsome and laughing. The wizard on the poster had dull eyes, when they used to blaze with passion for life…and her. Still, she couldn't take it down, or keep her gaze from returning again and again.

Maisie, her second-in-command, whispered as she filled a tankard with ale, "Don't tell my husband, but I used to think Sirius Black was the sexiest wizard alive."

Stars and Stones, I was staring at him again! Rosmerta concealed her dismay with a teasing smile. "Think Matthew would be jealous?"

Purple-streaked hair shook. "Not anymore!"

Rosmerta turned to take another order so she wouldn't have to fake a smile. Oh Merlin, what had they done to him in Azkaban? Had they starved him—tortured?

Out of the corner of her eye, Rosmerta saw a woman enter the pub.

"Dorrie!" Maisie cried. "Did you bring the children this visit?"

"They're helping Da patch the shed."

"Hugging the sheep more than helping, I'll bet!"

Dorrie nodded, taking a stool at the opposite end of the bar from her former employer.

"Go have a chat. Marianne and I can handle things for a bit," said Rosmerta.

The young barmaid heard her name and grinned. "Yeah, this crowd is light compared to what we'll have the first Hogsmeade Weekend."

While Rosmerta served customers, her friendly, cheerful persona didn't slip, even though inside she felt wistful. Once, she and Dorrie had been close, but they hadn't exchanged more than perfunctory smiles and polite greetings for years.

"Maisie said her friend used to work here before she moved to Glasgow. I hope she doesn't want her old job back," Marianne said laughingly, during a lull.

Smiling determinedly at the girl who would likely work a year or two before moving on, the way all her help except Maisie had, Rosmerta shook her head. "No worries, there." Her eyes flickered toward the wanted poster. There's my worry.

-

Sirius kept to the shadows, waiting for the kitchen door of the Broomsticks to open. On the first night he arrived back, it had made him feel good to find a pie tin of food waiting. No stray showed up to eat it, so she obviously wasn't feeding any other animal.

Rosmerta had known he would return to Hogsmeade.

In the past, they had concealed their relationship— first, because he was a student and then due to his work for the Order—but openly professed their love to each other. Sirius had never left her arms without promising to return.

He just never expected to be delayed so long.

Pride kept him from approaching her. When he'd first arrived, he had considered that to be protecting her. If anyone learnt she was aiding and abetting a fugitive, Rosmerta would face Azkaban herself. Sirius couldn't allow that to happen. After weeks of watching her set out the food, calling hopefully, 'Grimmy, are you there?' he could no longer lie to himself.

Sirius didn't want Rosmerta to see him this way. Pitiful, gaunt, a ghost of the handsome lover she remembered. If he saw pity or revulsion in her eyes, Merlin alone knew what he would do.

"Grimmy, are you out there?"

She had opened the door while he was brooding. He stayed crouched low, hidden beneath a bush, watching Rosmerta walk out onto the grass. This time, she didn't place the tin on the ground and leave. Instead, she sank to her knees and began to cry.

"I know you're there. I can feel it." Her voice was choked. "Why won't you come to me? You promised you would always return to me." She set the tin down and buried her face in her hands. "You promised!"

Sirius left his place of concealment.

Rosmerta's head came up at the rustling sound. "Oh, love," she breathed, holding out her arms, smiling through tears.

He took a step forward, and then another, until he was engulfed in a warm embrace. Soft hands stroked his fur, over and over, while sweet lips pressed kisses to his muzzle.

A man's voice cut through the whispered litany of 'I've missed you, I love you.'

"Rosmerta?"

Canine senses smelled fear, rising in waves from the woman whose arms tensed around him. "Callum, why are you here? I told you…."

"It's over. I remember. That's not why I'm here."

Sirius felt Rosmerta begin to relax, until Callum said, "After almost a dozen years of spending weekends together, the last month has been lonely. I decided to visit the cottage and do some painting, have a match with Hamish in the pub later. Do you mind?"

"Of course not. We'll always be friends, and I'll always be glad to see you."

"Thanks."

The man Sirius remembered as a fledgling artist and part-time short order conjurer stared fixedly at the dog Rosmerta clutched tightly. The jammy bastard was still curly-haired and handsome. Sirius' gums drew back from his teeth in resentment.

Dark brows creased. "He looks familiar. Has he been around before?"

"Yes."

"He looks terrible, like he's been mistreated. Is that why you're so upset?" Callum took a step forward. "I can help take him to the veterinary Healer if you want."

"No!" Rosmerta smiled shakily. "I appreciate the offer, but I'll take care of him. Go back inside. Please. I'll be fine."

When Callum left, Rosmerta whispered, "I'll leave the back door ajar. After you eat, come through the kitchen. I'll tell Iris to let you by."

He cocked his head enquiringly.

She sniffed and nodded. "Yes, Iris Bouquet. After my father died and Callum moved to London, she decided to try part-time conjuring…and has been with me ever since." Rosmerta hugged him and kissed the top of his head before standing. "I've dreamt so many times that you came back...and now you're here...oh gods, love, I'll join you as soon as I can!"

Sirius waited until she disappeared from sight to lower his head and wolf down the steak and kidney pie.

-

Rosmerta stopped by the lavatory to wash her face and hands before returning to the pub, but her employees noticed something was wrong right away.

"Have you been crying?" Marianne asked, passing her on the way to deliver whisky to a warlock.

Maisie handed a platter of sandwiches and beer to a group of former Hogwarts students before saying, "Was it seeing Dorrie or Callum?"

"No. I...I have a headache, that's all. I can work through it."

When a half hour passed, she didn't have to pretend distress when her gaze fell on the wanted poster. Unbidden, Rosmerta's eyes filled with tears again.

Maisie took her by the shoulders. "Go on up and take a potion. Get some sleep. We can handle things."

"Okay."

Upstairs, Rosmerta's steps quickened until she burst into her room, almost running in eagerness to see her love's face again. She halted just inside, puzzled by the darkness. She closed the door and began to speak an illumination spell.

"Don't turn on the light."

She turned toward Sirius' voice. "Why not?"

A mirthless chuckle sounded. "I took a longer, hotter shower than I have since my teens, and chewed half a tin of brushing/flossing mints, but it didn't improve my looks much."

Rosmerta took a step in his direction. "I've stared at your poster all day for weeks. Your face is still beloved to me."

A dark shadow rushed toward her. Strong, thin fingers curled around her upper arms. "Beloved? Callum spent his weekends with you for almost a dozen years and I'm supposed to believe that?" He shook her. "How long after I was sent to hell did he worm his way into your bed?" Her head snapped back when he shook her again. "Tell me!"

"Six months."

Sirius' grip tightened. "No wonder you were so afraid to see him! You didn't want me to find out how quickly you replaced me!"

"It wasn't like that! I was…."

"What? Lonely? Randy? Lying when you said you would love me forever?"

"Drunk!" Rosmerta cried brokenly. "The day I buried my father I drowned my sorrow and woke up with a hangover and…."

"A lover? I always knew he worked for more than galleons, but you said he was happy with Dorrie."

His accusatory tone stung. "I thought he was! I never realised he had feelings for me until they broke up."

Sirius dragged her against him. "When did he dump her? The day of my arrest…or the day I was given a life sentence without trial?"

"He doesn't know about you!" She grabbed his robes, the thin fabric wrenching her heart as much as his anger. "The day the Prophet announced your arrest, Lucius Malfoy's betrothal gala was splashed across the front page of the Society section." She said bitterly, "Everyone thinks he was my lover—including Callum!"

After a moment of silence, Sirius said roughly, "And I'm supposed to believe that…."

This time, she cut in. "I didn't tell Callum for the same reason I never married him or slept with him in the bed I shared with you." Throat aching with tears she tried to contain, Rosmerta said, "I love you, Sirius…Always."

-

Don't ever forget that I love you….

How many times had she said those words in the past? Was it because he was a stubborn bastard who had to hear something over and over to believe it? Staring down into her shadowed face, Sirius grappled with his jealousy. He had slept with women before Rosmerta and never loved them. He understood not wanting to be alone.

He was taking his anger out on the wrong person. Rosmerta had been heartbroken and vulnerable. Callum was the one who had hung around, waiting for his chance to take advantage.

Sirius planned to deal with his rival later, but right now, he had amends to make. He released her arms to cradle her face in his hands. "The only way I kept my sanity was to cling to the two things I knew were true. My innocence and our love." He paused before admitting, "The Dementors were unable to take them from me because they weren't happy thoughts. I believed I would never prove my innocence…or see you again."

Her tears splashed his hands. Sirius pressed on. "The last owl I sent you before I tracked down Peter—I was right. He willingly betrayed James and Lily to Voldemort. He killed all those people and cut off his finger to frame me when he escaped…and now he's at Hogwarts!"

Rosmerta gasped, "Harry!"

"Yes, I have to find a way to prove he's alive, to protect Harry."

"You escaped Azkaban, I'm sure you'll find a way."

"Will I find a way back into your life?"

Her lips brushed his. "My love, you are my life."

His restraint broke. Sirius kissed her hungrily, passionately.

"Yes, yes." Her hands tugged at the fastenings of his robes.

He smiled, reminded of their first time. "I don't want to rush you."

She pushed his robes off his shoulders. "I've waited twelve years, beloved."

Sirius took her mouth in another deep kiss while he unbuttoned her blouse. Her skin was silky-smooth and almost unbearably arousing. He groaned.

Rosmerta took his hand and led him to the bed.

-

In the darkness, he grinned like an idiot, thankful Rosmerta couldn't see. It was vain, but when she remembered his white smile, he didn't want her to see the yellow cast neglect had given his teeth.

"I can feel you smiling."

She should. He was using her bosom as a pillow. A magnificent pillow that he wanted to admire in the candlelight. Sirius said, "I'm wondering if you have a scarf that isn't crochet."

After a few heartbeats, she sighed. "Are you really so self-conscious about your appearance, love?"

"Yes."

Gentle fingers stroked his hair. "I'll go find that scarf and put it on in the lavatory."

Sirius reached up to kiss her. "I'll light the candles."

-

The next morning, he promised to return that night and exited the kitchen after transforming, tale wagging. Intending to trot over to Mrs. McFee's to see if she still baked gingerbread, Sirius changed course on impulse and made his way to a cottage on the edge of the forest. The front door was ajar. He poked his nose inside, scenting coffee.

"Come on in."

The man's voice made the dog freeze in place.

"I know you're there. I have a ward on the door. If you've come to rip out my throat, I have my wand ready, but if you want to hear my side of the story, I'll tell it if you come inside."

Sirius pushed the door open and went into the space which served as an artist's studio. Callum put down his paint brush and reached for the cup of coffee placed on a small table. His other hand held a wand.

"Dogs only live about twelve years on average. I don't think Rosmerta is aware of that, so you'd better advise her not to tell Maisie her pal 'Grimmy' returned from his journeys after all these years." Callum appraised him steadily. "You're skinny, but you don't look much older than you did back then."

Sirius continued to stare unblinkingly.

The man's lips twisted. "I thought her secret lover was Malfoy until she got drunk. She didn't remember calling me 'Sirius', so I never brought it up. It didn't matter." He drank another sip of coffee and set the mug aside. "I want to show you something."

Warily, the dog followed his rival into the back room. The first thing he saw was the bed. His hackles rose. On the wall above it hung a large framed canvas.

The painting depicted a woman on a balcony at sunset , gazing out to where the sea met the horizon. From her arrangement of upswept curls, the classical dress, and the architecture of the building, she was a woman of Ancient Greece. The model for the painting was Rosmerta.

"That's the reason Dorrie broke things off. I wasn't stolen away from her, no matter what the Ladies Society likes to whisper."

"Woof."

Callum's eyebrows rose. "Why then? Look closer. I told Rosmerta I wanted to do a painting of Penelope scanning the horizon for Odysseus' ship, but I added my own twist to the classic tale."

Sirius noticed what he hadn't before. At the woman's waist, a man's hand curved possessively—implying he was standing behind her, keeping a vigil of his own.

He growled.

"Dorrie recognised my ring…and what it meant." Callum looked down at the dog. "Do you know what it means?"

Slowly, Sirius shook his head, although he had a good idea. He wanted to hear it spelt out.

In a gesture of good faith or stupidity, the man laid down the wand. "What if there was someone who comforted Penelope while Odysseus was off chasing glory and adventure? Someone who loved her and wanted to make her smile again? I wanted to be that man for Rosmerta."

With a shrug, Callum said, "And now the wanderer has come home, and the suitors have been dispatched." He smiled thinly. "I wish you had never returned, but I don't begrudge my Penelope her happiness and won't take it away. Do you know why?"

Again, Sirius shook his head.

Callum crouched down to look him in the eye. "Because I'm sure Odysseus won't be staying. A new adventure will beckon, and the wanderer will leave again." Face set in determination, he said, "And this suitor will be waiting." He stood and left the room.

Before he followed, Sirius lifted his hind leg and urinated on the bedpost.

-

Days turned into weeks that slid into months. It seemed unfair to Rosmerta that time with Sirius flew by so fast when the years without him had dragged by. Soon wreaths hung on every door in the village, and the enchanted candles illuminating Christmas trees twinkled in cottage windows.

This year, for the first time in a dozen years, Rosmerta hummed 'God Rest Ye Merry Hippogriffs' while working in the pub. A third year boy wearing a Gryffindor scarf said, "That's our House Carol!"

"Good taste," Rosmerta approved with a wink.

Her eyes widened when Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic, walked in with Hagrid and Professors Flitwick and McGonagall. She hastily prepared each of her long-standing customers' preferred beverages and strolled over to deliver the order.

As hoped, the Minister—fat old flirt—invited her to join them for a drink. She had a hard time keeping the edge out of her tone when she asked Fudge if he knew Dementors had searched the village twice. She played it off as concern for business, but in reality she'd been frightened for Sirius.

When she tried to defend her lover in a roundabout way, the Minister said she didn't know the worst of it. Hiding her anger behind what Maisie called her 'dumb blonde act', Rosmerta asked what he meant, and kept prompting in breathy curiosity until she heard the Ministry version of what had happened to the Potters.

Only once did she slip out of the role she was playing. Hagrid had finished sharing his opinion that once someone had gone over to the Dark side, nothing and no one mattered to them anymore. A black silence fell. Rosmerta thought Fudge was an idiot and couldn't be expected to believe otherwise, but the others had known Sirius as a student, and still believed the worst of him.

Grimly, she said, "But he didn't manage to disappear, did he? The Ministry of Magic caught up to him the next day!"

Fudge misread her tone as satisfaction and said, "Alas, if only we had." He continued to share his well-rehearsed version of events, bemoaning the 'hero's death' of Peter Pettigrew.

Rosmerta felt only relief when they left. After returning to the bar, she looked down at the turquoise shoes that used to be one of her favourite pairs. They didn't shine so brightly now.

-

On Christmas morning, Rosmerta told Sirius reluctantly, "I'm expected at the McInnis farm for dinner. Natalie and Robbie are visiting from Edinburg, and Fiona and Hamish said their boys made me present." She smiled. "All three of them, so they'd worry if I didn't come."

She caught a blur of motion as Sirius rolled atop her. He used Disillusionment charms in the daylight to conceal his appearance. She gave a little laugh. "I feel like Psyche, forbidden by Cupid to behold him."

Unseen, his lips brushed her ear. "If you saw me, perhaps you would fear me, perhaps adore me, but all I ask of you is to love me."

Rosmerta's hand slid up his arm to smooth back his long hair. "You know the story. Would you leave me if I tried to see your face?"

"No. But it would taint my pleasure."

She twined her arms around his neck. "Then I will wait for you to reveal yourself to me."

-

Later, Sirius lounged in bed watching Rosmerta get dressed, hoping somewhere, Callum Ross was alone and miserable, eating his bloody heart out.

After slipping on sparkly red shoes, she brought a carved box down from a wardrobe shelf and placed it on the bed. "I agreed not to buy you anything for Christmas, and I haven't. This is a gift, made with my own hands." She backed away, tears sparkling in her eyes. "Happy Christmas, my love."

He knew what he would find before he lifted the lid. Letters—years of love letters written without any hope of being delivered. Magic contained them, but when he overturned the box, they spilled onto the bed like a river of parchment.

"Billet Doux," he whispered raggedly. Across 'blank' parchments, words became visible. He picked up a letter at random. It was dated the July after his arrest.

Darling, I write this at the desk overlooking vineyards and pastures leading down to the sea. They are our vineyards now. I begged Afonso to sell me the property, and he did. I don't know whether my sobbing that this was the one place I felt your presence most, or my offering twice the market value persuaded him, but he agreed.

I never claimed to be married, but our friends in Lajes call me Sra. Black now, and a viúva, the widow. Perverse as it sounds, I do not correct them, for I grieve your loss as deeply as any wife. My only consolation is knowing that you are alive, and one day you might see Flores again, and our home I named Saudades--Longing.

New tears joined the old ones staining the parchment as Sirius bowed his head and wept.

-


-

"Desejo-lhe umas boas férias! Have a good holiday!"

Rosmerta waved to the old man who had made the trip from Faial to Flores with her each summer since that first time with Sirius. Joaquim Amado Osorio had become a dear friend—spending countless evenings talking with her in their favourite pub—and she would be sad when his health became too precarious for him to make the journey from his home in Portugal.

She called, "Veja-o logo! See you soon!" and eased her red Honda scooter into the light traffic of the small fishing port.

Admiring the abundance of colourful wildflowers, Rosmerta smiled to see distinctive sky-blue blossoms. Hydrangeas were planted in front gardens of white-washed homes and used as hedges along the motorway, dividing green pastures.

The sight and scent of flowers welcomed her home, along with the balmy breeze and the warm July sun overhead. Rosmerta pushed her scooter as fast as it could go; wishing she'd had the nerve to learn to ride a motorbike. On this journey, more than any other over the past dozen years, she could not wait to get home.

Her heart pounded in anticipation as she turned onto the narrow track that led to a stone-built house. It appeared deserted, shutters closed against the winter storms. With a wave of her wand, they opened to let in the sunlight.

The gear was left strapped to the scooter while she unlocked the door with fingers trembling in excitement. Inside the house she'd spent holidays refurbishing, Rosmerta briefly wondered if Sirius approved her colour and decorating scheme as she headed for the stairs.

She paused in opening the bedroom door when she heard Sirius speak from the other side of the panel. "I never knew they took so many pictures of us."

"Neither did I—until Dulce and the others gave them to help me find comfort." Her voice shook. "I hope it wasn't too much of a shock, finding them placed all over the house."

"It was humbling to know how much I'm loved." Huskily, Sirius said, "I wish I still was that man on the outside as well as the inside."

She blinked rapidly, trying not to cry. "Don't you understand that you're beautiful to me?"

"Yes."

The door slowly opened to reveal Sirius, with tears on his cheeks and love in his eyes. Crying with joy, Rosmerta walked into his arms.

They were finally home.

-


-

So where did they put Buckbeak? The lav? The cellar? Or maybe outside, with a Disillusionment Charm on him. I like the imagery of Sirius and Buckbeak, at the end of PoA, flying to Flores to wait for Rosmerta and hope readers do too. Muito obrigado to everyone who read and reviewed A Charmed Life! I don't write song fics, but titles inspire, as does Greek mythology and words from the Nickleback song. Aside from the original story, Semi Charmed Life and its sequel, the Odyssey and PoA were the stories I drew upon for inspiration when I wrote this. Two short quotes were taken directly from the scene where Harry overhears the 'official' story about Sirius, and a longer 'if you saw me' one was borrowed from Lucius Apuleius' version of the tale of Cupid and Psyche. I cried like a hopeless romantic writing this story. Had to go outside and watch snowflakes swirl around to get myself together. If it touched readers, I would love to know in a review!

Special Note: The Allknowing Tonks asked after Sirius fell through the veil in my R/T story "What happened to FanFiction! Where Sirius doesn't die because we're all in denial!" That reminded me of a response I'd made to a reader about this story (when they wanted a Rosmerta reacts to Sirius' death fic) so I'm sharing it here.

If this story continued to slip between canon cracks (Harry doesn't know so it could have happened) then yes, it would be sad, but I've decided this will veer from canon so Sirius doesn't go back to London, doesn't end up under virtual house arrest, drinking in misery, until his life ends in a final, rash action. Instead, he listens to a sensible woman who tells him he can't help, so give the house to Harry and the Order and wait on Flores until Voldemort is defeated.

There's a film called The Shawshank Redemption, and toward the end, when Red is going to see Andy, his words make me think of what Harry might feel after defeating Voldemort, going to see Sirius on Flores.

I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand. I hope the (Atlantic) is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.

I hope readers can imagine such a happy ending for Sirius and Harry too, at least in one dimension of the Potterverse.