"Once Burned, Twice Shy" by H.L.B.
Rating: PG... a few minor profanities and a bucket and a half of angst.
Disclaimer: Let's say it together... "J.K. Rowling owns the Harry Potter characters and universe."
A's Note: If you like this and can take more angst you may wish to read it's companion piece "The Razor-Edged Return of Memory"
Muddy Fletcher had been easy. With Lupin on board he received the news of Sirius Black's innocence with an explosive "HA! I KNEW it! I knew it old boys!" His response was more somber, however, when he was presented with the news of Voldemort's return and the Minister of Magic's refusal to believe it, let alone do anything about it. "Damn Fool," he'd muttered, "does he think that You-Know-Who is the bloody boogeyman? Does he actually think that if he doesn't believe in him he won't exist?"
His spirits lifted by Fletcher's response, Sirius was optimistic about Ella Figg's. Remus Lupin was not nearly as confident. Remus remembered. He remembered what it had been like to discover that Sirius had betrayed James and Lily Potter to Voldemort -who promptly murdered them. As if that were not bad enough the news came with the tidings that Sirius had killed another friend, Peter Pettigrew, along with twelve muggles before being dragged off to Azkaban. He now knew it had not been true, but everything and everyone, including Albus Dumbledore, agreed at the time that it must be.
He had learned to live with the grief, the sense of betrayal, and the loss of faith in his own judgement. And he had learned to do it alone. Of their original group of friends only Remus, Ella, and Mundungus Fletcher remained. As they often were, Fletcher's whereabouts had been unknown at the time. And Arabella Figg had been sent into hiding the morning the news of Sirius' betrayal and arrest broke. Despite the downfall of Voldemort and the arrest of Black, her house had been blasted apart by a group of death eaters for a reason they could not fathom. Come to that, Remus still didn't know, although he supposed Ella must.
While Remus Lupin, Dumbledore, and a handful of others now knew that Sirius had been innocent all along, the rest of the wizarding world still thought him to be guilty and Azkaban's most notorious escaped prisoner. Ella was certainly among that group and Remus suspected she would be a "hard sell" on the truth. After all, if he hadn't seen that vermin, Peter Pettigrew, alive with his own eyes he might never have been convinced of the truth, himself. Peter had betrayed James and Lily Potter to Voldemort, Peter had framed Sirius and then faked his own death, killing those innocent muggles in the process. But Peter wasn't here. He had gone to join his master, Voldemort. Just days earlier he had helped Voldemort return to his body.
"Remus!" Sirius suddenly called out, irritably, "will you stop that pacing? You're driving me nuts."
Remus sighed and stopped in front of the window. Ella would apparate, most likely outside his shabby front door, in a short time. He and Sirius would then begin the difficult task of explaining the truth to her. He hoped against hope that his suspicions were wrong. He hoped that Ella would receive the news with the same fervent joy that Muddy had... but he doubted it.
A watched pot never boils he thought turning from the window and walking to the kitchen.
He pulled three mis-matched cups and saucers from the drainboard and put them on a tray along with a tin of tea, the sugar bowl, and some spoons. He used the tap to fill a crockery tea pot with water and placed that on the tray as well. He decided he could conjure cream if it was needed and lifted the tray to carry it to the sitting room where Sirius waited.
He had invited Ella over for tea and she had accepted. It would be the first time they had seen each other since... No use dwelling on that anymore he thought setting the tray down with a clank. Sirius surveyed the tray, shook his head, and headed for the kitchen. Remus could hear him rooting about in the cupboards. Finally he returned, triumphant, with a tin of cookies.
"Ah, of course," Remus said absentmindedly, "Thank you Sirius."
"Not at all," Sirius said with a magnanimous tone as he sat and propped his feet on the coffee table next to the tea tray. At the sound of the bell mere moments later, his feet came swiftly back down and Sirius sat up quickly, betraying nervousness for the first time. Remus tried to give him a re-assuring smile before stepping into the hall to answer the door. As he walked toward it he took a few steadying breaths.
Remus could see through the peephole that Ella looked uncertain and anxious as she stood outside, waiting. As soon as he opened the door, however, there was a sharp intake of breath and her face cracked into a smile.
"Remus!" she exclaimed reaching a hand toward his graying temples then withdrawing it, "Merlin's beard, it's been a long time."
Remus felt an odd flutter in his chest as he gazed at his old friend for the first time in years. "Ella," he said fumbling to find her hands and draw her across the threshold, "Come in, old friend, come in."
Ella smiled as he pulled her inside and shut the door. Ella looked at him and said ruefully, "I'm sorry, Remus, I should have gotten in touch with you when I came back. But by then it was... you know... it was too hard."
Remus, swallowed, thinking about what Ella would think a few seconds when she saw Sirius. "I understand, believe me," he said, his expression somber, "and there is a lot we need to talk about Ella. I'm afraid that I've got a bit of shock for you."
She looked at him clearly puzzled and Remus decided there was no use putting it off any longer, "Come into the sitting room, will you?" he asked leading the way. Ella followed him but, even as he walked into the room he could hear her stop dead in the doorway behind him. He glanced at Sirius then turned around. The expression on her face defied description. Her features were frozen somewhere between shock, fear, anger, and betrayal.
Even as he watched her, Ella's face settled into a betrayal so pained it hurt to look upon it. At that moment Remus felt he had begun to understand what it might have been like for Sirius all these years. For Ella had fixed the look of betrayal not on Sirius but upon him.
Her mouth worked soundlessly for a few seconds before she found her voice,
"Cassandra's Ghost! Remus how could you?" she said even as she fumbled with her robes and began backing from the room, her eyes moving quickly back and forth between both men. Too late, Remus realized she was going for her wand. She was pulling it out before he even thought to reach for his. Sirius' instincts were better. Remus heard him shout "Expelliarmus!" and saw Ellas wand fly past him, undoubtedly into Sirius' hand.
"Ella, hang on a minute, please," Sirius said, moving beside Remus, "Just hear us out-
"Why?" Ella interrupted sharply, "Are you going to give your Dark Lord recruitment speech? Save it!"
"Ella, you don't understand, Sirius is innocent!" Remus exclaimed desperately.
She laughed with a harshness that made Remus wince to hear it. "You've seriously underestimated my intelligence old friend." she spat.
Then several things happened all at once. Ella made a dash for the door and Sirius was beside her like a shot, grabbing her arm. She struggled and managed to squirm out of his grasp, knocking him down in process. She scrambled to the door and grabbed the door handle just as Sirius managed to croak "Locomotor Mortis!"
Her legs locked Ella stumbled and fell over quickly twisting around and pulling herself toward the door with her arms. But Sirius was on his feet and had conjured ropes around Ellas wrists and ankles.
"Come on, Remus," Sirius said his voice shaking, "help me bring her into the sitting room."
Numbly, Remus picked up Ellas legs as Sirius lifted her under the arms and, together, they took her into the sitting room and placed her on the couch. Ella said nothing, simply fixing Remus with a look darker than he had thought her capable. Things were going from bad to worse.
"I'm sorry, Ella," Sirius said sadly, sitting down across from her with a sigh, "But I can't let you go running off to the ministry until you hear us out ... if not for my sake for Remus'"
Ella snorted derisively, "Oh, that's how it is, then? You're worried about your partner in crime? Is that why you took all the blame on yourself? To spare poor dear Remus from Azkaban? How very noble," she noted her voice icy with sarcasm, "Remus, did I apologize to you for not having seen you all these years? I definitely take that back."
"Ella..." Remus began a plea in his voice, "please you've got to listen-"
"Do I?" snapped twisting her hands and legs (which Sirius had un-locked) in their bonds, "What happens if I don't? You kill me sooner rather than later?"
"We're not going to kill you, Ella" Sirius said with just a hint of a growl.
"Oh, how very fortunate. I suppose it will be cruciatus, then?"
"God, Ella, No!" Remus exclaimed
"Why the hell not? Blasting friends and innocent muggles to bits doesn't seem to disturb you two, why should the cruciatus curse?"
"Ella, I know it's hard to believe, but you're wrong, Sirius never did those things! He was framed. Peter Pettigrew is the one who betrayed James and Lily to Voldemort. He faked his own death and framed Sirius."
"Peter? Peter? You can't be serious! You're blaming Peter?"
"It's true, Ella," Remus said urgently. Ella regarded him for a moment and her expression softened slightly.
"Remus, I want to believe that you believe that. But whether you do or not I'm just not that naive."
Sirius chimed in at this point, "Ella, I know this is hard, you've been hurt a great deal-"
Ella went livid, "Oh you know how I've been hurt? That's rich coming from you, Sirius, considering you are the cause of most of my pain you f-ing bastard." Sirius was taken aback and Ella pressed her advantage, "Tell me something, Sirius, was Azkaban difficult?" Sirius shuddered involuntarily at this question and nodded. "Good. Every time I thought of you over the years I've hoped and prayed it was. But let me tell you something, no matter how difficult Azkaban was, it was a mere drop in the bucket compared to the comprehensive ocean of pain you've inflicted on others."
"James and Lily's death's hurt me, too" Sirius said hoarsely.
Ella's laughter cracked through the room like a whip. "Really? Why is that? Because their deaths lead to Voldemort's downfall? Yes, I suppose that was hard for you. Losing everything after finally openly declaring yourself Voldemort's second-in-command... that must have smarted. Tell me, is that why you killed Peter? Were you working off some frustration?"
Sirius' head sank into his hands and he didn't reply. Ella looked at him with disgust and turned her head toward Lupin.
"What I don't understand, Remus, is how you were drawn into all this. I always thought that you at least understood what it was like to feel pain. Or was that just an act to win our trust?"
"No, no, nothing was an act not then, not now. Ella please, you've got to listen to me, let me explain, please."
Ella raised an eyebrow and shook her head, "Fine, if that's the way you want to play it. Tell me all about it."
Remus took a deep breath and began to explain how, he too, had thought Sirius guilty until Peter Pettigrew appeared on the Maruder's Map he had confiscated from Harry Potter at Hogwarts, "The map never lies, Ella, I knew it had to be Peter but I still didn't know what it meant" He then described the confrontation in the shrieking shack and how he had come to understand that it was Peter who was the betrayer, not Sirius. At this point Black broke in,
"I thought making Peter the secret keeper was the perfect plan, that no one would expect it to be him and not me. I was a fool. Peter was working for Voldemort all along."
"Peter Pettigrew was in Voldemort's inner circle? You don't seriously expect me to believe that do you?" Ella replied with disdain.
Sirius' voice was bitter as he replied, "Little Peter was just a bit more clever than we ever gave him credit for. Once we were out of school and went our separate ways he didn't have any big boys to hang out with so he chose the biggest one of them all. So long as it served Peter's purpose, it didn't matter to him that Voldemort was evil incarnate."
This time, when Ella responded her voice was utterly calm, even soft, with a very dangerous edge, "Save your breath, Black, and get on with whatever it is you've got planned. I'm not going to go for it. I spent too much time trying to stitch the torn rags of my life back together once you were through having your fun. I'm not about to let you mess with me again."
"Ella, I swear I never-"
"Oh, just get on with it!" Ella exploded, "You've been waiting for years to finally finish the job and kill me so do it!"
Sirius looked genuinely confused.
"Ella, what do you mean he's been waiting to kill you?" Remus asked equally confused.
"All these years I never understood why those death eaters blasted my house apart ... what did they hope to gain after Voldemort was gone and Black was caught? Well, now that I know you've been in cahoots with Sirius all along, Remus, I finally figured it out. You two just wanted to finish off the rest of us who weren't on the Dark Side. Really, I suppose it was a nice touch if you have no soul."
"Ella, I swear-" Remus whispered.
"Don't you dare... don't you dare swear Remus Lupin. You two can do whatever you want to me... I can't stop you. But I can tell you this, I'm not going to give either of you the satisfaction of buying your little act."
"Ella, listen-" Remus began desperately
"No, You listen... if you've got even a molecule of a heart left somewhere you listen to me... What you and Black did... it did more than rob me of some of the most important people in my life. It did more than rob me of my home, and my life - since I had to leave it all behind when I went into hiding." Ella was shaking visibly, "I suppose that eventually someone can learn to live with that. But what you took away went a great deal deeper. You took away my faith and my trust... not just in others but in myself. Any of us would gladly have died for either of you and we believed you would for us. When I found out how very wrong I'd been-" at this point Ella faltered, her voice hoarse, even as her eyes held Remus' trying, it seemed, to bore into his soul.
"I chose to be alone because I couldn't trust anyone... I couldn't even trust myself. After all, I had been stupid enough to l- to trust Sirius. I haven't let anyone be important to me since then so that I would never, never have to feel that pain again." Ella turned her attention from Remus to Sirius at this point, "Sirius, you needn't have bothered to try to have me killed. You'd already done that. The fact that I've continued breathing hardly matters."
No one spoke. For a long moment until a still shaking Ella took another breath and continued her voice tight with the effort to control herself,
"There you are, boys. I make a gift of my suffering to you since that is probably the only thing that will make you happy!" With this her bravado dissolved. Tears spilled from her eyes and she looked away from Sirius and Lupin. Without thinking Lupin moved to her to console her. As he put his hand on her shoulder she struck out at him screaming,
"No! No! Get away from me! Get away from me!"
Remus recoiled at this and Ella turned toward the back of the sofa, pulling herself up into a fetal position, her as her body shook with sobs. Remus backed up into the coffee table sitting upon it heavily. He didn't even hear the crash of the forgotten tea tray that he dislodged in the process. He merely sat, feeling himself shake as he watched Ella sob in the mirror image of his own suffering in the years since Peter's betrayal.
"Remus, I can't do this anymore."
As Black spoke Lupin turned to see his friend pale and shaking his head, "She has no reason to believe the truth, no one does."
Lupin nodded, "If we let her go, you'll have to go into hiding, again, Padfoot."
Black looked up into Remus' eyes his own dark with suffering, "No just me. You'll have to go, too. When Ella goes to the ministry she'll tell them you've been in on it all along and that you've been harboring a fugitive."
"And they'll be only too willing to believe that of a werewolf." Lupin said with disgust.
"I'm so sorry," Sirius whispered, "I've cursed you, too."
"Sirius, it wasn't you," Lupin began.
"Are you so sure? Look around you, man! Whether I've done anything wrong myself or not, I've still managed to bring suffering down upon the heads of everyone I ever cared about."
"Don't be an idiot, Sirius," Lupin said dully, "Everything that has happened to any of us is the result of the actions of evil men... not you."
"Even so," Sirius said with determination, "It ends here and now."
"What are you talking about?"
"I want you to turn me in."
"You heard me. It's your only chance now. If you bring me in they'll be willing to believe I hoodwinked you but you came to your senses. Hell," he continued with false bravado, "they might even give you a medal."
Lupin looked at his friend for a moment and knew what he had to do.
"No. I can't do that."
"You've got to."
"No, Sirius, If they catch you again the Dementors will preform the kiss. You'll be worse than dead-"
"So? Maybe that would be best for everyone, even me."
"Well that's damn selfish. What about Harry, eh? And for that matter, what about me... You plan to sacrifice yourself for my sake but what makes you think I can live with myself if you do it? If you go to the ministry I'll be right behind you to turn myself in, too. Either that or we both go into hiding." He held up a hand to stop Sirius' protest, "No. I mean it. Don't argue with me. Decide. What will it be?"
Sirius shook his head and finally spoke, dragging his arm across his eyes, "I've been to Azkaban, my friend, and you don't want to go there. We're going to have to go into hiding. The sooner the better, I suppose."
Both men rose and Remus turned back to look at Ella. She had stopped weeping and sat facing them, her face blank and expressionless.
"Let me get the last of the Wolfsbane potion and my robes. Do you need anything?"
"No, Remus," Sirius said picking up his robes and shrugging himself into them.
Remus left and returned moments later robed and carrying his worn attache case.
"I suppose we should go and explain what's happened?" Lupin asked
"Yes. He'll need to know that two of the 'good guys' are out of commission for a while," Sirius said as he turned to face Ella raising his voice and speaking distinctly - doubtless to penetrate her shocked stupor, "Ella, listen, I'm going to put your wand right here on the coffee table just before we disapparate. You'll be able to reach it and untie yourself."
"Ella," Lupin said sadly as he crouched in front of her, "I know you don't believe us and I guess I can't blame you. But I need you to know that Sirius and I are so sorry. We love you and could never have deliberately hurt you. I hope you understand one day." With that he rose and walked to stand beside Sirius who nodded at him and carefully placed Ella's wand in front of her on the coffee table.
With a stricken expression Lupin turned his back on his old friend and Black followed suit. In tandem they raised their wands to disapparate.
"Stupefy!" Ellas voice rang in their ears as both men felt themselves caught by her incantation. As consciousness dissolved Remus resigned himself to his fate with surprising calm.
As he came to, Remus was disoriented. He didn't know where he was or where he should be. Then he remembered. Sirius had doubtless had his soul sucked out by the Dementor's Kiss and he was either going to get the same treatment or if he was "lucky" he'd be sent to Azkaban to rot for life. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes.
At first his vision was blurred and all he could make out was a set of green robes. Fudge, Lupin thought remembering the Minister of Magic's preference for velvet robes of that shade. As his eyes focused he could make out crescents and stars embroidered on the robes with gold thread. Whoever it is, it can't be Fudge, he's too stodgy Remus thought dully raising his eyes to see who it actually was.
Blue eyes looked at him over half-moon glasses. Remus sat up sharply, felt his head spin, and laid back just as quickly.
"Dumbledore?" he asked weakly.
"At your service, Remus. Are you quite all right?"
Instead of answering Remus looked around. He was still at his home... not at the ministry or in Azkaban as expected.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Pinch me, I need to be sure I'm not dreaming."
Dumbledore chuckled. Lupin, however, was not to be deterred. He raised his arm with a meaningful look at Dumbledore who shrugged and gave him a sharp pinch.
"Definately," Remus said rubbing his arm as he sat up slowly and carefully, "I'm confused, though. What happened?"
"Miss Figg knocked you and Sirius out."
"Well, yes, I know that," Lupin said trying not to betray his impatience, "But why didn't she call the ministry or take us in? She didn't did she?" he asked craning his neck to be sure there weren't members of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad lurking in the hallway.
"No, she did not. She knocked you both unconscious to stop you from leaving and then she contacted me."
"Which is what you idiots should have done in the first place," a said a disgruntled voice to his left. For the first time he noticed Ella sitting a chair a few feet away. Her expression, however belied her words. It was clear she was quite distressed.
"What on earth changed your mind?" Lupin asked
"I believed you when you put my wand down and turned your backs... or at least I wanted to. So I took a leap of faith. As soon as I knocked you out I untied myself," she paused here to give Remus the smallest of meaningful looks, "I thought through what I had heard you say. It seemed to me that if you were telling the truth you were probably going to see Dumbledore and if you weren't I could sure as he-, ahem, heck use his advice so I Flooed him. By the way, you're really low on Floo powder, did you know that?"
A low appreciative laugh emerged from the wing chair on Remus' other side where he turned to see Sirius stirring.
"Ella, you're something else, do you know that?"
Ella raised an eyebrow.
"Next time just tell me that's what it takes and I'll give you back your wand and turn my back right away."
Ella colored and looked down at her lap.
"Ella," Sirius said, his voice softening, "You know I don't mean it. Believe me when I tell you that I understand."
Ella smiled at him with a warmth he remembered from long ago.
"I believe you, Sirius. I believe you."