Never Entirely Free
—and one of his hands is knotted in her hair, as he presses Rose up against the bedroom wall. His breath stinks of Firewhiskey; he bends his head, his lips inches from hers, as the fingers of his other hand dig into her hip, and her heart beats faster, fear and excitement and dread coursing through her body. She is breathless, speechless, unable (or unwilling, it feels the same) to tear away, not sure what to say, frightened Sirius will not hear her if she says no—
"Rose," whispers Sirius, his breath hot against the side of her neck.
how it begins
Rose Potter is getting ready for bed.
She's been alone here with Sirius at Grimmauld Place for nearly a week, and for all that she wakes up every night with visions of torture and mayhem in her head and a throbbing pain in the scar on her forehead, she has never been happier in her life. Sirius, too, radiates a contentment she has never seen in him before; sometimes she catches him looking at her and there is such pride, such a fierce, possessive glow of happiness in his eyes that she walks around all the rest of the day with a grin on her face.
It has been a long day of talking and practice-dueling, and now she is quite tired. She has showered and cleaned her teeth and climbed into the tattered flannel sleep pants that she bought at an Oxfam two years ago when Petunia turned her loose with five pounds to her name and orders to buy all the clothes she would need during the year. She's already wearing a flimsy top with thin straps that's been too small for her since she was thirteen. Not that Rose ever puts on weight, with what the Dursleys feed her, but she does have a bust now, if not much of one, and all in all it's just as well she wears robes at school because nearly all the clothing the Dursleys have given her would make her look like the tramp Petunia's always accused her of wanting to be if she tried to wear them in public.
She picks up the clothes she left lying on the floor as she was getting ready for her bath and begins to fold them neatly. She's just shutting the dresser drawer when a rap against her open door draws her attention. Sirius is standing there, smiling at her, in his nightshirt and dressing gown, and her heart contracts with the same fierce joy she always feels at the sight of him. She grins back. Sirius takes a few steps inside the room.
"Suppose I'm about ten years too late to start tucking you in at night," he says in the gruff voice he always uses when they're alone together, the one that always sounds like he's trying to restrain some great emotion.
Rose wraps her arms around her body; it's cold in the room, which must explain the chill bumps on her arms. "I have no idea when people stop getting tucked in, I never was," she says, trying for a light voice. A hard look comes over Sirius' face, but it passes quickly, and Rose is grateful, because there's been enough regret between them for a lifetime already.
"I hope it's not been too dull for you here, just the three of us," he says. "You must be looking forward to getting back to school."
"You must be joking," she says. "I love this. I've never had anything like this before. Just me and...someone who likes me." She doesn't say 'love', not because she doesn't think Sirius loves her, but because she doesn't want to jinx it. "It's like having a family."
"Ah, Rosie." Sirius takes a few steps across the room toward her and catches her shoulders. "It won't be forever, you know. One day I'll take you so far away from those bloody relatives of yours that you'll forget they were ever anything but a bad memory."
"Never mind that," says Rose quickly. She can smell the Firewhiskey on Sirius' breath; he gets melancholy when he's had a few drinks, and she doesn't want to make him any sadder. "I'm just glad to be here now."
Sirius smiles a little sadly and rubs his hand briskly up and down her arms, before squeezing her shoulders and and letting her go. She feels warm and tingly from head to foot; she always does when he touches her, her body responding with some kind of primal hunger for affectionate contact. She wonders what he would say if she threw her arms around him and just held on for once, for as long as she wanted to. They have hugged before, but they've always been quick, breathless affairs, Sirius drawing away and holding her at arm's length as though to look at her—as though he had some reason for not prolonging the contact. She wants him to touch her so badly that she's embarrassed by it; she's nearly sixteen years old, if she thinks about touching at all it should be with boys her own age, about Ron and the looks he's been giving her lately—but that's not the kind of touch she wants, she doesn't think. She wants to feel safe and sheltered, not pawed at. She wants a father, or something almost as good.
"Something wrong, love?" says Sirius, frowning at her. "You look a bit—" He shrugs and shakes his head.
Rose replies with a wan smile. "Do you think Dumbledore would let me stay here with you this summer, Sirius?"
He looks—thoughtful, she decides, and a little grim. "I've talked to him about it. He's not that keen on the idea. I understand his reasons; you've got protections at your aunt and uncle's house that you can't get anywhere else." Off the look on her face he smiles sympathetically. "I know you hate it there, but nothing's more important than your safety, Rosie."
"My safety?" she says bitterly before she can stop herself,
Sirius grimaces. "Voldemort can't reach you there, nor can his Death Eaters. That's the safest you can be." He waits, as though expecting her to contradict him or explain her statement further, but she just nods. She's heard this before—Voldemort told her himself, in the graveyard last summer. She shivers again, rubbing her arms, and Sirius takes another step toward her.
"Think I will tuck you in," he says, putting a hand on her shoulder. "You're obviously not so grown up yet that you know when to come in out of the cold."
"It's okay," she says, turning her back on him and stepping toward her bed. It isn't that she wants to withdraw from him—never that. It is just that, if she leans into his grip now, she may never pull away. And it's too late in the day for drama like that.
Rose leans over the bed and starts to pull her bedclothes down. Sirius's voice—a strange, cold noise she has never heard from him before—stops her.
"Rose." She freezes, the menace in his tone making her suddenly afraid to move. "What are those marks on the back of your hand?"
Rose begins to swear at herself, silently and vehemently. She spins on her heel; she doesn't especially want to look him in the eye, but she also doesn't want him to get a closer look than he already has.
"It's nothing, Sirius," she says, darting a smile at him then turning back to her night table, taking care to keep her hands buried in the blankets.
But Sirius is already halfway across the room. She sees his rapid approach, the furious light in his dark eyes, and she can't help it—she feels cornered, trapped. He reaches out for her, extending a hand to grip her shoulder, as though to turn her around—she knows that is what he is about to do, and she knows that the hands and strong fingers that comes to settle there will not bruise or wrench her arm, but none of that matters. On some deeper level she registers only the speed with which he comes at her, the intensity of it, the shape of a large male form towering over her—and when Sirius lifts his hand, Rose flinches and ducks her head, lifting her arms before her face to block the blow she knows isn't going to come.
A long moment passes before she has processed, on both the conscious and subconscious levels, that nobody is hurting her—no one is even touching her. She lowers her arms, feeling a little sheepish—but sheepishness turns to guilty fear when she sees the look on Sirius' face. He is deathly white tinged with grey, a color she has not seen on him since immediately after he broke out of Azkaban. His mouth is parted; his hand is frozen in mid air, and suddenly it clenches into a white-knuckled fist.
"Rose," he whispers. "I wasn't going to—I would never raise my hand to you, don't you know that?"
The horror in his voice is what finally undoes her completely. Fifteen years she's lived with people who think a day in which Rose Potter hasn't felt the back of someone's hand is a day wasted; and here is Sirius, kind, wonderful, loving Sirius, her godfather, her parents' best friend, looking like he did that night in the Shrieking Shack when she called him a murderer.
Rose sags against the wall beside her bed and dissolves into helpless tears, covering her face in her hands.
"Ah, God—Rosie, don't—don't cry." Sirius cups the back of her head with his hands and smooths her hair with a few gentle strokes, the circles her back with his strong arms and draws her against his chest. She can't stop herself relaxing into that embrace, giving herself up to the warmth and protection of his strength.
"I didn't mean you, Sirius," she whispers into his chest, where her forehead rests. "I know you wouldn't. I know that."
"Then who, Rosie?" He pushes her away gently, grasping her bare shoulders and holding her firmly at arm's length. "Is it—I know what Wormtail did to you last year must have been—"
"It's not that," she whispers, though she knows she ought to play along, let him believe in his own explanation, because it's simple, it fits—and yet Rose realizes she wants Sirius to know the truth. Wants his anger. No one's ever been angry on her behalf before.
"Give me your hand," says Sirius, and Rose remembers what he had seen a few moments ago. And though part of her freezes, the rest of her says, yes, now. This is what you've been waiting for.
So she lets him take her hand, and she stands quietly until she hears the hiss of breath through his teeth, feels his fingers on the inside of her wrist, the roughened surface of his palm grazing her arm to the elbow, as though searching for hidden damage. The cold air of the room draws goosebumps from her exposed skin.
"Rose, this—this was done with magic." Sirius' voice is trembling. "What happened to you? Voldemort wouldn't have--"
"No, it wasn't Voldemort,"
"It happened at school, it's not important." She tries to sound dismissive, but even in her own ears she sounds panicky instead.
"At school?" says Sirius. And then the hand that is still on her wrist tightens spasmodically, with bruising force. She can almost hear the connection being made in his mind.
"Umbridge," he says, a note of deadly rage under the trembling now. Rose shivers; for the first time, she can see how people might have believed that Sirius Black had murdered thirteen people with one curse. He looks less than sane, his eyes bent on some horrible inner spectacle. "Thatfucking woman."
"Sirius, that hurts," she says, very quietly, as though he is a potion at a volatile stage of brewing. He releases her wrist so quickly it's as though he's been burned.
Rose knows she should talk him through this, answer his questions. He looks almost ill; he looks as though there's nothing he wouldn't do. The longer Rose watches him with that expression on his face, the more frightened she becomes. It's as though something is taking him away from her, and there's no way to stop it.
Then he speaks his next words and an whole new world of terror blossoms in her heart.
"I'll kill her," Sirius whispers, his voice hoarse with emotion. "I'll go right over there to the school and tear her throat out."
Rose moves so quickly it's as though an electrical current has been applied to her body. "Don't you dare!" she shouts. She launches herself at Sirius, seizing handfuls of his nightshirt and dressing gown and shaking him with all the strength in her skinny arms. "You'll get caught, they'll give you to the Dementors, you can't do it, you can't leave me--"
She is conscious that hot tears are coursing down her face; she can hardly breathe, the room is starting to look darker, her knees beginning to feel weak. She has just started to slump against Sirius when his arms come around her, and for the first time in conscious memory Rose Potter feels herself being lifted off her feet and carried a few steps to the bed, where Sirius sits down with her and cradles her against his chest, his arms clutching her so tightly that breathing is a little difficult. But she doesn't mind; she clings to him and empties herself of what feels like all the tears she has been holding in over the last decade or so, since she learned that crying only served to make her aunt and uncle angrier. And Sirius holds her, rocks her like a child through all of it, whispering incomprehensible words that soothe her for no reason.
"It doesn't matter," she whispers, when she can breathe again. "Nothing that happens to me matters as long as I have you."
"Dear God." Sirius's arms grow even tighter around her. "Rosie. Love. I'm not going anywhere."
Rose sniffs, wiping her face with the back of her hand, and sits up straight. She moves to get up off Sirius's knees, and he lets her go until she is sitting on the bed beside him, then covers her arm with his and grabs her hand with his larger one.
Sirius's other hand slips from her shoulders to rub her back in slow, soothing circles. Rose closes her eyes and lets her head droop under the steady pressure.
"Can you ever forgive me?" he says. "You've been through so much, and I was never there to protect you. And I promised James that I would, I--I should have been there for you. I should have stolen you away two years ago, Dumbledore be damned."
"You had to be safe," she says softly. "That's more important to me than anything. I love you so much, Sirius. I know I don't say it, but I do. I never had anyone before—and when I think I might lose you, I want to die."
She can't help it; the tears start up again, faster than before. She turns away from him; speaking is nearly impossible around the sobs.
Sirius stands up and begins to pace the room. He doesn't say anything for awhile, but occasionally he raises his hands to his head and clutches his hair. Rose's breathing slows. She wipes her face dry with the edge of her blanket, and watches Sirius take long strides from one side of the small room to another. The longer Rose watches him, the more she begins to worry she's made a mistake in telling him. He looks desperate, lost to dark thoughts.
She stands and takes a few steps along the wall to the door; Remus is downstairs, and he will know better than she does how to calm Sirius down. But before she's more than halfway across the room, Sirius turns and catches by the shoulders. She takes a startled step backwards into the wall. Sirius holds her arms' length, gazing intently into her face.
"I'll never let anyone hurt you again," he whispers. "My word on it. My life on it."
"Don't say that," she says immediately.
"I swear it," he says again.
They stand there in silence for a moment, and Rose begins to realize how very close they are to one another, how she is standing with her back to a wall and Sirius is holding her there, not moving away. He's gazing down on her now with a fixed expression; she finds herself wondering if he even sees her at all.
His hand unclenches, releasing her shoulder. The backs of his knuckles graze the side of her neck; his fingers extend, brushing a heavy lock of hair away from the side of her face. His fingers get caught in a tangle, and his hand stills, as though he is doesn't know how to get free without hurting her. Without meaning to, Rose leans her head into his hand, half-closing her eyes.
She feels his breath, hot against the side of her face, but she doesn't open her eyes until she feels his lips touching hers. Her entire body stiffens, not in alarm, precisely, but in reaction to the strangeness. She can't see his eyes like this. She doesn't know what she's supposed to do with her hands.
Then the kiss breaks, and she can see his face again, and he's smiling sadly at her, and she feels a wash of relief, followed seconds later by thought: that was all right, just the same as a kiss on the cheek. She smiles back, uncertainly.
"I held you in my arms when you were three days old," said Sirius shakily. "It was the happiest I ever saw Jamie. They named me godfather, and I—Gideon and Fabian Prewett had just been murdered, and I thought, it could be me next, and I looked down at you then and I thought, this is the nearest to family I'll ever have."
"Me too," says Rose, with a crooked smile. She means it for a joke, but the look on his face makes it clear that he didn't hear it that way.
"Every time I look at you," he says, in the same tremulous voice, "I see—I think—"
Rose waits for him to finish the sentence, but there is a faraway look in his eyes and his voice trails off. Then, suddenly, his fist clenches painfully in her hair, tugging at the roots. She opens her mouth and starts to say—something, anything that will break the tension, clear the storm that is gathering in his eyes. She can smell the Firewhiskey on his breath. His other hand runs down the side of her body and clasps the jut of her hip.
And then he is kissing her again, and this time it's different, like nothing she's ever done before. It's like the way Cedric kissed her, seconds before they took the Tri-wizard cup together, but without the joy or celebration—this is harsh, demanding, Sirius sucking her lower lip between his, then his tongue, searching the inside of her mouth, and her entire body is on fire, but her chest is tight, she can't breathe—
She can hear Sirius moaning her name against the side of her face. Rose's shoulders are rigid, and she thinks, that's wrong, in the stories the girl is always melting and pliant, and why doesn't she feel that way? Her body is at war with itself, her mind racing, her skin tingling. In a flash, she sees the next twelve hours of their lives, like a video on fast-forward: Sirius carrying her to the bed, his hand tugging down the elastic waist of her pyjamas, Sirius at the dinner table the next day, haunted and silent, unable to look at her.
She jerks away. Her head snaps back and hits the wall behind her with a brain-jarring thud. Her mind is too clouded for conscious thought to form, but she knows, somewhere deeper than thought, that even if she can't figure out what she really wants, she knows what Sirius needs, and it's not this.
She hears Sirius breathing, ragged and harsh. His hips thrust once against her body, reflexively, like a sneeze. Then his arms fall slack at his sides, and they stand there together, silent and unmoving, frost nipping at all the parts of her body that were burning moments ago.
When Sirius says her name this time there is a question in it, and a plea. He starts to take a step back, nearly tripping in his haste. Instinct, crossing the boundaries of her experience, launches her forward and makes her throw her arms around his neck, holding him to her, ignoring the shuddering that might have been sobs, that might have been coming from either of them.
"It's okay," she hears herself muttering, close to his hear. She grasps the collar of his robe at the back of his neck, daring him to try to run away. "I'm not a child. I can take care of myself."
There are other things that she thinks of saying: I understand, or, don't leave me, or even, maybe some day. But her throat closes, and after a few seconds Sirius relaxes, and his arms encircle her again, and when he steps back again his eyes are red and damp.
Rose cuts him off as he opens his mouth. She's not sure what he's going to say, but she knows, whatever it is, that it's not going to help.
"I'll see you in the morning, yeah?" She smiles at him.
He smiles back, crookedly. He looks very young suddenly, like the boy in the photographs who stood grinning with his arm thrown around her father's shoulder. "Yeah," he says.
She stands and watches him leave, then shuts her door. She thinks about locking it, but she doesn't want him thinking she's afraid of him.
She doesn't sleep much that night.
Rose is downstairs in a large parlor, practicing new counter-curses with Remus. She's learned lots of new stuff to teach the D.A. when classes start again, and Remus is still the best teacher she's ever had. He's pleased with her progress, she can tell, and his approval warms the chill that's settled over her these last few days.
She's wiping sweat from her face when Remus, glancing at her over his shoulder, does a double-take, his eyes narrowing. She looks at him, confused, and he takes a step forward.
"Rose," he says, "how did you get those scars on the back of your hand? Is that—writing?"
She feels as though she's fallen through a trick floorboard into a bucket of cold water. She looks up at Remus, steeling herself.
"It's nothing," she says, determined, dismissive. "Just a scratch."
Remus stares at her in frank disbelief, and opens his mouth to speak again, when a voice sounds from the doorway. Rose looks up; Sirius is standing there, watching them.
"Leave her be," he says to Remus, who looks at him, startled. "She knows her own mind."
Rose watches Remus's expression carefully as he looks at Sirius, then at her, then back at Sirius again. Sirius falters under Remus' gaze, and walks away.
A strange look flits across Remus' face, a combination of confusion, anger, and then, dawning comprehension. His eyes find hers, and there's a kind of helpless pity there that she recognizes.
Rose picks up her wand again and braces for what's coming.