Disclaimer: The characters you see here, excluding Nadia Ramsden, do not belong to me. They, the familiar plotlines and associated material belong to J.K. Rowling.

I would simply like to say that this was inspired by two things. The first, a simple quote that every little kid learns: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." The second, a challenge in The Fireplace forum here on the site. I always like a good challenge, and seem to write my best for those. So, here it is.

3rd place winner of The OC Writing Challenge at The Fireplace forum. (Two people tied for second, so amazingly, "Sticks and Stones" was declared third!) Thank you to all who voted for this fic.

WARNING: Spoilers for later, unwritten events in my story, "The Unnerving Bet." DO NOT READ if you don't want to see whether or not Remus lost his bet with James and why. There. I warned you.

"Sticks and Stones"

Whoever said "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me" obviously led a life away from his or her fellow humans. Words can hurt even worse than broken bones. Words can wound the soul, a dark place that the average stick or stone can never go.

The little phrases did the most damage: that's what Nadia Ramsden had found. It was the little phrases, and she could never stop the flow of those especially lethal weapons from her mouth. It made sense, then, that Halloween night of 1981 could properly be referred to as a night of catastrophe.

Nadia shuddered as a dementor led her down the ground floor hall of cells in Azkaban. Yes, thought Nadia. While most wizards would count it as a triumph, she and a handful of others would consider it a tragedy. Halloween had set quite a few lives on a downward spiral, and Voldemort's hadn't been the only one.

"I need someone to question Sirius Black in Azkaban, someone sharp enough to handle him."

"Nadia can do it, sir. She's good at interviews."

Holt. Why had Holt felt so compelled to speak up on her behalf?

"Good, Miss Ramsden! You may leave now."

Taking the assignment had been her only choice. In the Ministry Intelligence Agency, one did not question the decisions of one's superiors. Nadia's superiors didn't know, however, that she was tied to the convict in question.

Drawing a loud, rattling breath, the dementor stopped at a wooden door and made a wide gesture toward it. Nadia bowed her head in thanks and pushed the door open.

Her breath caught in her throat. She hesitated mentally, but her feet moved her inside. She was going to get down to the bottom of all of this, and fast. Sirius would tell her the truth. He always had…even if it did take him a while, at times.

"Moony's right, though, damn it all. I do love you. Hell, I want you to marry me, Nadia. We can skip all that dating rubbish, it just ruins relationships."

"Marry you?"

"That's what I said. Marry me."

"You?" Sirius asked incredulously from his seat in the corner, startling her out of her fonder memories. "They sent you?"

Nadia stared back at Sirius, managing a nod. He's not a murderer. You would've had this sort of visit before now if he was a murderer.

He hopped to his feet, cautiously taking a few steps toward her. "You're alone?" She nodded. "Good." Sirius swept her into his arms, pressing his lips against hers as if he had already been imprisoned for a decade.

Nadia's heart skipped a beat. Had he done it? Was this a goodbye kiss?

"I know what you're thinking," he said, with that rogue grin that had charmed many girls in its day.

You always do, she mused weakly.

"I know what they've told you." He put a hand on each of her shoulders, gazing so deeply into her eyes that she had to look away. Frowning, Sirius moved to the window. "He betrayed them, sweetheart," he said with all the softness of a deranged lunatic. "He betrayed James and Lily."

"So you did do it?" Nadia rasped faintly.

"I didn't have the chance!" Sirius pounded on the bars of the window. Nadia stiffened in surprise; he chuckled, caressing the bars as if he was running his fingers over her hair. "I didn't have the chance."

She frowned, but said nothing. It was best to let him talk.

"He wanted to frame me. Don't you see?" Sirius turned to her again. "He wanted to frame me. He knew he could." Snorting, he added disdainfully, "Snivellus probably had to come up with it for him.

Biting her lip, Nadia murmured, "There's no proof."

"Of course there isn't," huffed Sirius, "the little rat's disappeared!" He hung his head in frustration. "Splinched himself trying to get away."

"They've…locked you away for life." Her intended question came out as a statement, a conclusion—another one of those catastrophic phrases that she hated so much.

Sirius looked up sadly into her eyes. "Yes, Nadia. They've locked me away for life." He reached out a hand and motioned her toward him. Slowly, she shuffled forward. For life, she thought numbly. Bartemius Crouch had thrown Sirius into Azkaban without even giving him a trial.

Gripping her shoulders, he finished, "But that doesn't mean they've locked you away for life."

Well of course not, thought Nadia. How ridiculous! She had been neither accused nor falsely convicted of a crime, much less committed one. What on—oh. Oh no. He couldn't mean he wanted her to…move on. He couldn't possibly want her to forget him, to discard a vastly important chunk of her life.

One look into Sirius's eyes, however, confirmed that Sirius had indeed said what she hadn't wanted to hear. "No!" Nadia snapped angrily, tears welling in her eyes. "Don't pull this shit on me!"

"I'm not getting out of here!" Sirius hissed fiercely, taking her face in his hands. "And there's no chance in hell I'm going to let you sit at home thinking about what our life might've been like." His eyes shone with tears, now. "No chance," he whispered, wrapping his arms around her. "None."

Nadia choked, "T-that's not fair." Don't cry. Ministry Intelligence agents don't cry. "You'll get to sit here thinking-" A tear rolled down her cheek. "T-thinking-" Stop. You don't stutter. "-about it." It was too late. She sobbed. She broke down and sobbed. Her eyes burned as tears mingled with heavily applied mascara. It wasn't fair! Nadia wanted to stomp her foot and throw a tantrum worthy of a three-year-old child. None of this was fair!

Laughing bitterly, Sirius reached up and pulled out the band that was holding her hair back into a ponytail. He nuzzled her ear with his nose as he tangled his fingers in her hair for what might just have been the last time. "I wouldn't dream of anything else. But you…" He pried himself out of her arms, wiping the sleeve of his prison uniform across his eyes. "There's someone else that needs you. Somewhere."

"You need me, you idiot!" Nadia shot back at him, half-heartedly beating his chest with one hand. "You need me."

"You want me to need you," Sirius said forlornly, covering her hand with his. He took another step backward, as if conflicted on whether or not he should continue to comfort her.

She stumbled as she tried to match his steps, the room blurred by her swimming vision. "I need you."

Nadia needed him more than she could have ever imagined. They had officially met when Sirius was dared to ask her on a date.

That, she remembered vividly. She couldn't date someone that she didn't know, she had told him with a laugh.

"What's not to know? I'm Sirius Black, you're a pretty young lady. The end, don'tcha think?"

"No. Not the end. I don't know you."

"Well, then, I guess you're not opposed to friendship?"

"Not at all. It'd certainly help me get to know you."

"Might, I'll give you that one."

They had been the best of friends ever since.

Sirius had been there to rescue her when she had been tied back-to-back with Remus Lupin the day of a full moon. Sirius had held her up when she could barely stand at her father's funeral. Sirius had even been there when she and Remus called off their relationship, though he himself had been the cause. Nadia needed Sirius, and he was being taken away.

Story of her life.

"No, you don't."

"Damn it, Sirius!" she snapped. He watched her dejectedly, letting her hand go. "You need me, and I need you. Admit it."

"If I do, you'll never go!"

"Admit it!"

He stopped mid-scold. "We do need each other," he finally confessed, swallowing. He took her hand again, gently pulling her into his arms. "I can't fix it from here, sweetheart," Sirius said, rubbing her back with one hand. He kissed the top of her head. "I can't."

She knew it, of course. Sirius had no control over the injustice of the situation. What could he do from his meager cell? Nothing. He no longer had a life on the outside like she did.

…like she did. She didn't live in a prison. Nadia murmured, "I can."

Startled, Sirius cupped a hand underneath her tear-stained chin. "What?"

"I can!" Nadia repeated.. "I can do it!"

"How?" Sirius eyed his fiancée intently.

"I'll prove he framed you." The wheels in her mind began whirling. She needed an incentive, a strong one. Something that would make her work fervently, quickly—

The shining diamond on her engagement ring caught her eye.

"Take this." Nadia slipped the ring off of her finger and held it out to Sirius, who breathed a shuddery sigh of relief. What a martyr, Nadia thought. He must have gotten the ridiculous idea that she intended to move on after all.

Scratching his neck distractedly and waving off her hand, Sirius muttered, "It was a gift."

"Take it," Nadia encouraged him. "You can give it back to me when I get you out of this place."

He looked up at her in surprise. "What?" A confused grin parted Sirius's lips as he took the ring out of her hand.

"You can give me that grin of yours and tell me to marry you," she said, mustering a smile through her tears. She unclasped a necklace chain from around her neck and pressed it, too, into Sirius's hand so that he could wear the ring on the chain. "And I'll do it."

He flashed his trademark grin at her and said, "You'd better, sweetheart."

Nadia's heart melted. How many times had she seen that grin? Thousands, probably. But somehow...it seemed different...more valuable, now that the owner was to be shut unfairly behind prison bars. "I will." She stared into his eyes for a moment before she finally kissed him goodbye. The kiss was brief, tender: it said what words could hardly accomplish.

Nadia pulled away when she could've kissed Sirius for ages, giving him an apologetic look. He simply kissed her forehead and nodded, silently accepting the inevitable. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. As Nadia walked out the door and left poor Sirius to gaze after her, she vowed that Peter Pettigrew would be begging for her sharp words rather than the lethal "sticks and stones" she would throw at him.

Her words had only ever hurt her, anyway.

Thank you for reading. Reviews are highly appreciated, as Nadia and her story are my main focus at the moment. I love all my reviewers! (Wish me luck in the aforementioned challenge, my loyal friends?)--MJSkywalker