15. Bought Time



Severus woke up with a start. He had dreamed about the graveyard. Voldemort's voice calling him, enticing him to join the darkness again.

His hand searched for Laurel, for the comfort of her warmth, but the bed was empty and the sheets were cool. He must have slept too long. Groaning he got up and under a cold shower. He'd have to report to Dumbledore, and then find a way to get Claire and Black out of the Ministry, before anybody found out about Black's identity.

When he entered the living room, a strange sound made him halt at the doorstep. Laurel sat in a chair by the window he had conjured into the dungeon walls, and tickled the little boy's belly. The child giggled with pleasure.

The domestic scene fascinated and repulsed Severus at the same moment. He had completely forgotten about the bounty he had brought back with him last night. But of course the boy was alive and had to be fed and taken care of, at least until his parents were found.

"Severus." Laurel smiled at him and rose, letting the child sit astride at her hip. The boy beamed at him out of big brown eyes, and reached for his wand with a chubby hand. Severus flinched. He had no experience with small children, but he was quite sure that a wand was no fit toy.

"We just had breakfast," Laurel kissed the boy's forehead indulgently.

"Had we?" He could not fully keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

She laughed. "Awful, isn't it? Hit me when I start cooing and crooning."

The boy tapped Severus on the nose, and held onto his hair with surprising strength.

"Can we keep him for a while?"

He sighed silently and pried the child's fingers off the hair strand. He knew her so well by now and it grieved him how carefully she kept her voice void of any hope. They had talked about children and even though he was not to anxious to become a father, he had not fully rejected the idea. But it just had not happened yet. And with a pregnancy, he thought while he helped himself to breakfast, he'd have at least nine months to prepare for the inevitable.

"He got a mother and a father waiting for him somewhere," he reminded Laurel gently. "Just imagine how terrified they must be right now."

She gave him a brave face. "I know." Then, setting the child down on the rug, she took Severus' hand and nuzzled her cheek to it. Silently counting her blessings she remained like this for a moment. Who'd have guessed a year ago that he'd ever accept her touch so easily? Patience was the key word. There would be a baby of their own. One day.

"We'll have to find them, you are right."

* * *

When Severus entered the Headmaster's study an hour later, he found the old wizard and Remus Lupin sitting in front of the fire.

„Ah, Severus," Dumbledore offered him the third chair, "I hope the child you rescued last night is fine."

Snape had long ago ceased to wonder how the old wizard knew about things.

"The boy is fine. Laurel takes care of him right now," he reported. "We'll have to find out who his parents are and return him."

"A child?" Remus was pale and had obviously not slept much. Already exhausted from the recent transformation, his face showed deep lines of exhaustion. "Where did you find a child?"

Severus told him in short words about the events at the graveyard.

"What would they need the child's blood for?" frowned Remus.

"I have a theory. But right now we ought to deal with last nights arrest."

Dumbledore rose a warning hand.

"An Auror has just been announced by the house-elves. He'll be up here in a minute. I want you and Remus to be present and listen to what he has to say."

When the door opened, Remus' eyes widened in surprise.

"Cas!"

The Auror smiled faintly. "Remus Lupin. I should have known you'd be here." He looked at the other wizard. "Snape." He frowned. "What is this? Class reunion?"

Dumbledore held out a welcoming hand. "Castor Black. It's been a long time."

Castor nodded gravely. He was shorter than his older brother, and more lightly built, but his vivid blue eyes betrayed the kinship. He wore the uniform robe with two stars at the collar and nothing reminded of the young wizard who'd been one of the best guitar players Hogwarts had ever seen. The perpetual mischief in his eyes had disappeared, and now there was nothing but sincerity and wariness.

"I trust you already know what happened last night," he said, addressing Dumbledore. "I remember that you always knew things, even when we took the greatest effort to keep them a secret."

The Headmaster bowed his head. "I know that the Aurors arrested one of my staff and his wife and accuse them to be in conspiracy with Voldemort."

Castor winced when he heard the name. "One of your staff …," he repeated carefully. "Would that be my brother?"

Remus gave him a shaky laugh. "Sirius? Cas, are you out of your mind? You know he is on the run since his escape from Azkaban. Do you really think he could invade the staff at Hogwarts where everybody knows him so well?"

"Until last night I'd thought this impossible," admitted Castor. He dug in the pockets of his robe and produced a small piece of plastic. "But then I found this under the belongings of a Death Eater named White. He'd just been brought in for interrogation."

Dumbledore looked at the small square Castor handed him. It was a Muggle photography of Sirius and Claire, both smiling into the camera.

"I asked the Aurors who had arrested him, and they did not recognise him. But I did. It was my brother, and I don't give a damn about what spell he used to distort his appearance or what phoney name he goes under now."

"But as far as I recall you were always convinced your brother was a murderer and Death Eater. So why didn't you blow his cover now that you recognised him?" Severus arched his eyebrows.

Exasperated Castor explained: "Yes, I thought he was guilty then. But I had many years to go over the evidence again and again. If the Ministry knew that Professor White was really Sirius Black, they'd let the Dementors administer the kiss the same moment. No new trial, no opportunity of defence. So I decided to undertake some investigations before I said anything."

Dumbledore smiled gratefully. "Well done, Castor."

"So it is true? It was Sirius I saw this night?"

"Sirius and his wife," confirmed Dumbledore. "The witch on the photograph is Claire. She and your brother got married a few months ago."

"Can you help us to get them out of the Ministry?" asked Remus urgently. "There must be a way. Claire is pregnant, she can't stay in one of their cells for long. And you can imagine how dangerous it is for Sirius."

"The Ministry? He is in Azkaban."

"What?" Remus shot up in shock. "How …"

"Hold it!" Castor raised a hand to shut Remus up. "I think I can demand some explanations. First, my brother bears Vol …, You-know-who's mark on his arm. I saw it through the one-way-wall of the interrogation cell."

"He is my spy." Dumbledore's words came calmly and finally.

But Castor would not give in so easily. "Second, this wife of his is not under arrest anymore. Her counsellor got her out. "

"Her counsellor?"

"Some guy named Olsen."

"Ben Olsen!" Snape rose, white with fury.

"The Aurors could not produce any proof she took part in the meeting. Olsen explained that she'd been taken there by her husband under false pretences. So they let her go."

Remus gave a big breath of relief. "So Claire is safe."

"She is safe," confirmed Castor and looked at the picture Dumbledore still held. "Is Siri really her husband?"

"And the father of her child," said the Headmaster. "Why do you ask?"

The young Auror raked a hand through his dark hair confusedly. "Because I overheard the conversation she had with my brother before she was released." He scowled in remembrance. "Merlin, what a bitch."

Remus and Severus both stared at him. Castor sat down in the chair the Headmaster offered him and told them what Claire had said to Sirius, word by word as it was engraved in his mind. The more they heard, the colder the faces of his audience got. When he was done, there was a moment of stunned silence in the room.

Then Dumbledore rose from his seat.

"Remus, be so kind to ask Miss Kennedy to fly over to Hogsmeade and ask Claire to see me. Immediately." He nodded at Castor. „You must be hungry. The elves will fix you breakfast."

Severus saw with worry how frail and tired the Headmaster looked all of a sudden. "Albus, let me …"

"You must give me an hour to think." Dumbledore shook his head and closed his eyes warily. "Until Claire is here to give us her point of view."

* * *

Serene parked her broom in front of Winterstorm Manor and ran up the stairs. Remus had been in such a terrible mood she had not asked for the reason they needed to see Claire so quickly, but had rather done what he asked of her. For once.

She'd not been surprised to hear that Claire had been released by the Aurors. But then she trusted her own visions - even if nobody else seemed to, she thought bitterly - and she had not seen Claire in Azkaban, only Sirius. She knocked at the door, and while the Winterstorm staff usually was very attentive, it took forever until the door opened and a distressed greenish face with blue-rimmed eyes looked up at her.

"Miss Serene!" Peagreen sobbed and pushed open the door. "Oh Miss Serene, do something with Miss Claire!"

Serene entered the hall. The Manor was silent like a tomb.

"What's wrong?" she asked Peagreen. "Where is your mistress?"

"She is in bed!" The elf grasped her hand and pulled her towards the stairs. "You is to go and talk to her. It has eleven o'clock and Miss Claire is in bed!"

"Is she ill?" Serene asked worriedly. "Is she injured?"

Peagreen's eyes bulged even more. "She say she is cold. But she want no tea no chocolate no coffee no butterbeer no milk no peppermintsyrup." She threw up her hands in exasperation. "We tries. We really tries."

"It's alright. Let me talk to her." Serene knocked at the door of Claire's bedroom, but Peagreen pulled her further down the corridor to another door.

"Her Sirius' room!" The elf whispered loudly and pushed Serene through the gaping door.

It took her a while to adapt to the dim light. She almost turned to leave because the room seemed empty when she noticed something in the corner between the bed and the wall.

Carefully she approached the woman who cowered on the floor, curled into a tight ball, her face hidden in her hands. Claire almost disappeared in Sirius' leatherjacket. She shivered, but when Serene gently pried her fingers off the face, her eyes were dry. She appeared frozen, petrified.

"Claire?" asked Serene, not sure what to do. "Are you ill?"

She got no answer. Hesitatingly she shook her.

"Go away." The voice was but a whisper.

"You must get up! Just look at you." Serene kneeled next to her. "Your elves are out of their mind with worry."

Claire groaned.

"Dumbledore wants to see you. It sounded rather urgent." Serene grabbed Claire's wrist and pulled her into a sitting position. "It happened, didn't it?"

"Yes." Claire sat up slowly, every muscle aching. She had no idea how long she'd been lying here on the floor. All she could remember was entering the house, walking straight up to Sirius' bedroom and wrapping his leather jacket around her like an armour.

"Yes, it happened."

Serene looked at her sincerely. "I am sorry."

When Claire came out of the shower, Serene had laid out some underwear for her on the bed, and now used her wand to dry her friends hair. Claire tried to comb out the tangles, while Serene searched the wardrobe for a robe.

"I don't want to see Dumbledore," Claire sighed. "I made a terrible mistake and he'll have every right to admonish me for what I did."

"You are not a kid anymore. You got to stand up for what you did. You must not let them make you feel guilty."

"I know. It is just … The last days have been kind of hard. Sirius and I … we fought. And just when we were about to make up, he got arrested."

"Oh please! You are whining because of that petty argument the two of you had? He's still crazy for you, that was plain to see for everybody."

"He isn't. Not anymore." Claire felt the now so familiar heartache when she remembered Sirius' dead eyes. "I … made sure of that."

"Well, you'll have to make it up to him then. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, get dressed and get to Hogwarts!"

Claire stopped braiding her hair and shot Serene a bitter glance.

"I am not so tough. I am not … like you!"

Her voice was accusing.

Serene looked up, frowning. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"You kiss Remus one day, and kick him the next. But I can't do that."

Serene's bottom lip trembled and to Claire's surprise her eyes suddenly swam in tears. "I may kick him," she said very softly, keeping her eyes on the content of the wardrobe. "But I never kissed him."

Claire gaped at her. The confession of the red-haired witch had let her snap out of her numbness. "You have not kissed him yet?" she stuttered and put down the silk shift. "But I thought … he proposed to you?"

Serene picked two matching stockings. "He did."

"He proposed without ever kissing you."

"Remus is a werewolf." Serene turned and now Claire noticed with pity she was crying. "He has this idea in his head, about me being his life mate. He says he knows. He doesn't need proof."

"And you?" Claire's voice lost it's bitter edge. "Do you?"

"What?"

"Need proof?"

Serene wiped the tears off her face with her sleeve. The robe was ruined anyway since that child of Laurel's had spit banana mush all over it.

"I told you, it is just an idea Remus insists upon. He'll get over it." Sighing she threw a shawl at Claire. "I'd only make him unhappy."

"But if he longs for it so much …"

"I kissed a lot of men, and it never meant anything. But for Remus it would mean the world. That's why I won't do it." Blowing her nose, Serene pointed at the watch on the mantle. "End of this discussion, if you please. Dumbledore is waiting."

* * *

Claire entered Dumbledore's study and found herself face to face with three young wizards who stared at her accusingly, and Dumbledore who's eyes were dark with doubt.

Before she could say a word, Remus Lupin jumped up, grabbed her at the shoulders and shook her so hard her head almost hit the door post.

"What is wrong with you, woman? How could you do this to him?" His face was pale with anger. "Merlin, get out of my eyes or I swear I hurt you as badly as you hurt Sirius!"

Claire didn't dare to move. His eyes had turned amber and for the first time she got a glimpse of the beast that lurked in him. The fine hairs at the back of her neck rose.

"That's enough, Remus." Dumbledore's voice was soft but imperious enough to make the young wizard jerk back and let go of Claire's shoulders.

For a moment they stared at each other, then Remus shook his head bitterly.

"He loved you." His eyes told her of the pain he suffered with her betrayal of his best friend. "You were the first woman he truly loved. You should have killed him right there. It would have been more merciful."

"Remus."

He looked up and met Serene's glance. Calmly she held out her hand. "Come."

Like a sleepwalker he let her take him out of the study.

When the door closed behind them, Claire still trembled from the sudden attack. Gentle kind Remus Lupin, who always had a friendly word for everybody … Now he hated her. When she looked at Severus, she saw the same disdain. Even Dumbledore gave her the grave look he reserved for students who had severely disappointed him.

The third wizard in the room she's never met, but he looked familiar.

"Take a seat, Claire."

Dumbledore pointed at a chair in front of the large desk. Claire shook her head stubbornly. She had no intention to sit like the accused in front of a jury.

"I'd rather stand."

"As you like." The Headmaster sighed. He nodded at the strange wizard. "Castor?"

"This is my sister in law?" The Auror looked at Claire curiously. "You are Siri's wife?"

Claire swallowed hard. So this was Castor Black, the only one of Sirius' brothers who was still alive. The Auror who had helped arrest his own brother fifteen years ago when all the world was convinced he was the one responsible for the Potters' death. The resemblance with Sirius was there, around the eyes and the stubborn chin. But his hair was rather brown than black, and curled where it reached the collar of his uniform robe.

"I am Claire. Yes, I am your brother's wife."

"Some wife," Severus muttered.

Claire crossed her arms over her breasts defensively. She had known this meeting would be difficult, but she had not anticipated the fierce hostility from every side. Where was Laurel when she needed her? Her friend would have understood - or at least given her the benefit of the doubt.

Silently Remus and Serene returned, and stood with Severus.

Castor gave Claire a hard glance. "I heard every word you said to Sirius. And so did your counsellor."

"But …"

"Ben Olsen was a telepathic streak, he can read your mind if your defences are not up," explained Dumbledore.

"No," Castor shook his head. "He needn't listen to her mind. It was an interrogation cell. Of course there is an adjoining chamber from where every word can be heard."

"Did you know about that, Claire?" Dumbledore built a bridge for her. "Did you know they'd hear you? Is that why you acted so strangely? So they would not find out who Sirius really is?"

Claire swayed. She had not even thought about the possibility of Olsen reading her mind, nor the Aurors listening to her conversation with Sirius. Would it have changed anything, she asked herself. Probably not. What she had done, she'd done to save Sirius' life, not his pretend identity.

"No." She could hardly talk. Desperately she tried to blink away the tears. She had not cried yet. She had not cried with the pain, nor with the desolation. The pressure had built behind the dam of frozen emotions since she'd left the Ministry. But now the dam broke, and she burst into tears.

Dumbledore rose quickly and came around the desk to draw her into his arms. For a moment she allowed herself to just be hugged and comforted by the old wizard.

"Claire, tell us what happened," he asked soothingly.

She tried to move away but he held her with surprising strength.

"I love him." Her voice has just a whisper.

"Then why would you tell him that you did not need him anymore?" Castor frowned at her. Dumbledore made her look at him. "Claire?"

"I love him," she repeated helplessly.

"Love!" Remus spat. Serene laid a hand on his shoulder to calm him, but he shook it off. "You knew about him. You knew how hard it was for him to learn to trust you. How he fought …"

Something in his voice made Claire's last barrier break. Anger surged over her like a hot wave.

"Stop it," she yelled at him. "Damn it, Remus, just shut up! What do you know? What alternative did I have?" Red patches showed in her tear-streaked face. "I had the choice to spare his feelings or to save his life. And I chose his life!"

Remus' eyes widened. "Claire …"

"I wanted him to live! That's all that counts. Yes, he'll hate me for what I said. I know that. But he'll live. The Dementors won't touch him as long as he is without any happy thoughts." Her voice cracked.

"But how could you know they'd take him to Azkaban?" demanded Castor Black. He did not really understand what was going on.

"She recognised the robe he wore." Serene left Remus' side. She searched Claire's face, her eyes serious and knowing. "Didn't you?"

Claire angrily wiped the tears off with the back of her hand. "It was pure horror. First the Death Eaters meeting, Voldemort, the Dark Mark. Merlin," she cried out when she remembered the evening, "they were going to sacrifice a baby!"

"The child is save," said Snape coolly. "Keep talking."

"I knew Sirius would try to kill Pettigrew. And then the Aurors came in. There was no way we'd get out of the graveyard, not with Sirius strangling Peter. He told me before he'd not be taken back to Azkaban alive. But I knew Serene had seen him in Azkaban in her vision, wearing the very robe he wore at the meeting. And now, Remus Lupin," she demanded through gritted teeth, "tell me what I was supposed to do."

They stared at her, understanding dawning at the faces.

"I distracted him. He let go of Peter and came to my help, not even thinking about his own fate. So the Aurors took him by surprise."

"And then Serene's vision became true." Dumbledore sighed in desperation.

"But I knew beforehand!" Claire explained feverishly. "I knew they'd take him to Azkaban, and I had time enough to plot a plan."

"A plan?" Castor shook his head. "If your plan involved to get Sirius down, then you did a great job."

"She took away all happiness before the Dementors could do it." Remus' arms fell and his knees buckled. "I am sorry, Claire," he whispered hoarsely. "I … I did not think. I just felt."

"I bought him time. A few weeks maybe." Claire clenched her fists. "And I know I am going to pay for it dearly."

Severus rose from his chair and went to her. Bowing his head in apology, he did not need to say anything to make her know he was sorry for his assumptions, too.

"He'll never trust you again." He put a hand on her arm. "At least I wouldn't. Not if you'd done this to me."

"I know. I destroyed all we had." She stared into a void. "But he'll live."

* * *

Sirius lay on the stone floor in a corner in his cell in Azkaban and talked in his sleep. The minute he'd been returned to the prison, the voices in his head had started to plead again, and he put up no defence but accepted it almost gladly. Everything was better than the terrible pain in his heart, even the knowledge that this time madness would take him. When he couldn't sleep he stared at the wall, or out of the barred hole. But there was never anything to see but fog and storm gales.

The moments he was conscious enough to ponder his situation he tried to come up with ways to make the Dementors notice him - so they'd finish what Claire had started. But those moments got few and fewer, and soon there was nothing but a haze of pain and hopelessness.

* * *

A week after the disastrous evening at the graveyard, Claire sat with Remus and Harry at the Quidditch stand in the early evening hours. They had decided to tell Harry the truth about Sirius' arrest. Sirius was his godfather after all, and he had a right to know.

It was hard enough for Harry anyway to lie all the time and pretend that Sirius was Professor White.

"I hate it to lie to Ron. And Hermione is just so damned smart!" he sighed. "She sees everything, and I am afraid she already knows the truth and just waits for me to come clear."

"I am sorry, Harry." Remus remembered Hermione's scrutinising looks, and how fast she'd concluded he was a werewolf. "But it is necessary. The less people know who Professor White really is, the better."

"And you know what?" Harry almost spit with annoyance. "Ginny Weasley got a crush on him. Since the birthday party she gets all starry eyed when she sees him!" Desperately he raked a hand through his already unruly hair. "I wanted to talk to Sirius about … things. But now it seems so vain, so petty compared to what happened."

"It's alright," said Claire and gave him a shaky smile. "I am sure it would have embarrassed the hell out of him anyway. But you know he cares about you. He'll always have an open ear. When he is back …," she finished the sentence lamely.

"Why did he get caught?"

Claire winced. If only she'd listened when Dumbledore warned her not to attend any Death Eaters' meetings. If only she'd stayed at home that evening instead of foolishly thinking she could do it on her own. Sirius would be safe and sound now.

"It was my fault," she admitted sheepishly. "He tried to help me when the crowd ran me over."

"He always does things like this, doesn't he?" Harry hit his thigh angrily with his hand.

Remus stood up and stretched his arms. Then he looked at the boy, leaning against the railing. "You know that Dumbledore once told me his theory about how the Marauders should not have been James, Sirius, I and Peter, but the three of us and Severus?"

"Snape?" Harry coughed.

"Just my reaction," smirked Remus. "But then he explained it to me and it made kind of sense. If you take us as a Quidditch team, then your Dad would have been Chaser. Always a flight ahead, never looking back, taking full risk with every action. I'd be the Beater, trying to keep enemy fire off the team. Snape would be a Seeker, watching, scheming, but acting fast when appropriate. And Sirius, " he looked at Claire, "would be the Keeper. Risking his life for what he has to defend. It's just the way he is. He can't help it."

Claire gave him a grateful smile.

"I remember the time when the Dementor entered the train. That was when you came to Hogwarts." Harry looked at Remus. "It scared me half to death."

"I remember it as well. I was down and out, since it was the day after the full moon. And waking up facing a Dementor was not really what a poor werewolf wants."

"Will they …," Harry's voice trembled, "will they hurt him in Azkaban?"

Remus took a deep breath. He didn't want to lie to Harry, but how much should he tell him about what Claire had done to keep the Dementor off Sirius for a while?

"He has been there before," said Claire calmly. "And he survived. He will know what do. For the time being."

"I knew it! You'll get him out!"

The boy looked at the grown ups, and they exchanged a glance of resignation at his sincerity.

Then Claire nodded and gave him a quick hug.

"We'll get Sirius out."

* * *

It took them weeks to develop the fine details of the crazy plan Claire had thought up. Dates had to be set, old debts called in, bribes paid and threats voiced. Castor Black was most important for his connections. He did all the paperwork, and returned to Hogwarts twice to confer with Claire, Remus and Severus. Hagrid joined them and helped to draw a plan of the prison. They went over the details again and again, until every step was fixed. They'd only have one try, and even this one was at a high risk.

"Mostly for Lupin," explained Severus to Laurel the evening before the endeavour. "I am not in immediate danger."

"Sure. You go into Azkaban, with all the Dementors around, with the Dark Mark on your arm, and there is no danger." She put her fork down and decided she was not hungry anymore. "Do you think I am stupid, Severus?"

He rose and stepped behind her chair. Pulling her up, her turned her so she faced him. His eyes were dark with emotion.

"Maybe. Stupid enough to put up with me all this time."

"Stop it!" She bit her lip in despair and it made him want to kiss her. "We once promised each other the truth. I have the right to know."

He exhaled slowly. "Yes."

Holding her hand he took her to a chair and sat down with her on his lap. He found it much easier to talk like this. "The Dementors won't hurt me. I did not play the danger down. Lupin got the worst part of the plan, but it can't be helped." He kissed her temple. "I'll be gone for just a few hours."

She sighed.

"You better be back soon. Because if not ..."

"If not?"

"I'll have to go and get you."

* * *

Remus Lupin climbed the stairs that led to the top of the Astronomy Tower. He knew Serene would be up there, huddled in a blanket to fill out star charts for Sybil Trelawney. He had kept her company many nights up there, mostly talking, at times only lying on his back and looking up into the abundance of stars on the firmament.

Serene did not turn when he silently stepped out onto the platform, but held up a hand halting him, while she made a last note in the light of a candle.

Then she put the parchments and quill down and gave him a faint smile. "Done with plotting and planing?"

He had not told her any details of how they intended to free Sirius yet. And now it was kind of hard to come clear. Sitting down on the blanket next to her, he hesitantly held out his arm.

Serene sighed.

What had Claire called her? Tough?

She was not so tough that she did not need comfort and closeness at times. She was not so tough that she did not sense Remus' need right now. How bad could it be to just sit there and let him hold her for a while?

She leaned towards him, and let her head rest on his shoulder. He relaxed gradually.

"I must tell you something," Remus said softly.

"Don't. Please, don't." Serene looked up at his serious face. "Lets just sit here for a while and not talk and not think."

He swallowed hard and gently touched her face with his fingertips. If anything went wrong the next day, at least he'd have the memory of this moment.

* * *