To say Marissa was nervous would only be mostly correct. Blacks did not get nervous, and she was a Black whatever her mother said. Standing in front of that run down house in London, she felt worse than nervous.
She'd had the dream weeks before; watching his body curve gracefully backwards - her uncle, even though she didn't know who he was. But life with her mother made it difficult to leave and it had taken three days just to tell her mother about the dream itself.
Aurora's reaction had been predictably distraught. But to Marissa's surprise she had also cried. She'd calmed long enough to tell her about Sirius, the darling little boy who had become a Gryffindor, fallen in with half bloods and traitors, and been gaoled for betraying those he would have died for.
It took a week to leave the circus. Aurora didn't want Marissa to go. Marissa had expected that, but had expected a fight and desperation; instead she found only worry and grim determination.
"I don't know why you'd want the house," she said.
"Won't Sirius's friends need it? I can save it from ending up with the other people who won't be so nice about it, yeah?"
She didn't tell her about the other man in the dream, one she thought she recognised from her mother's secret photos, who was alone in the house with only tea for company.
Aurora sighed. "I'll talk to Jacques."
Jacques was their boss. He was a nice man, who taken on the poor woman and her dancing bear despite the cost involved in keeping animals. He had severely overestimated the cost of keeping a bear, of course, but then Aurora had overestimated his possible acceptance of magic. There had been no time in the last thirteen years that would have been right to tell him that the bear was in fact Aurora's daughter. So Marissa had spent most of the last thirteen of her thirty-one years in Animagus form. And Jacques didn't want to lose his special act.
She was looking forward to escaping.
They walked to Paris, earning their keep with the act that had convinced Jacques in the first place and sleeping, mother and daughter, in the next town where no one yet knew of an old woman and her pet.
It took two weeks to make it to the city, and a further day to find the Wizarding quarter. As Marissa grew more excited, Aurora withdrew into herself.
"There's a reason I left," she whispered as they passed an Owl shop.
"There's a reason why I'm going back," Marissa replied.
"Just remember that all men are bastards," Aurora told her.
The lawyer recognised them as soon as the walked in the door. He was a short man, with tidy hair and an untidy desk. His name was Jasper and he was intelligent and pragmatic enough to simply nod when Aurora explained what she wanted to do.
"It will take three days to draw up the papers," he said.
They waited three days.
Then they took the papers, and the train to Calais. Marissa boarded the ferry and waved until her mother was a mere speck on the shore.
It was grey and dark in England when she arrived in Dover, but she ignored the other passengers and set off towards London. Once clear of the town she was able to transform and lumber towards the city with surer footing. The closer she got the more she was sure of where she was going. The house was calling to her, she was sure of it. And she remembered that relief with which her mother had signed the papers. Had see had the dream, too? Did she know about the man at the kitchen table?
She had to transform again before she reached the outskirts of London. She hadn't brought any money with her, so cast a charm on the guard at the tube and prayed that it would hold long enough for her to reach where she was going. She left the tube with the peak crowds at Kings Cross Station and followed the tug in her belly into the surrounding streets.
When she first arrived she couldn't see it. The street looked perfectly normal, if dingy, but there was nothing between number eleven and number thirteen. She stood calmly on the street and thought about the house. Number twelve, which would look just like number ten, but with snakes on the door handle and a sandy haired man drinking tea in the kitchen.
Suddenly it was there; all three stories of decaying Wizarding pride. Marissa smiled, and pushed the nerves away. There was more at stake here than the house itself or the cause Sirius had given his life for. She walked slowly up to the front steps, but paused before actually climbing them. She didn't want a scene in the street; and the man was in the kitchen.
Preparing herself for possible attack, she griped the iron railing that ran beside the stairs and vaulted it, landing in the Area outside the kitchen windows. She could see him clearly now; his hair was greying and he was pouring hot water over an infuser of tealeaves. Someone had made cookies. 'Remus Lupin,' that was the name, Aurora had said it once in the story of Sirius's life.
Marissa knocked on the door.
Remus didn't like answering the door. If it was someone he knew there was always that awkward moment when they remembered that he had opened the door last time they had stopped by and realised that he may not have left the house between times and that they did not know what to say. And there was always the risk that someone else would come by and Remus would have to take some sort of action, make a decision.
It was a Thursday, and despite the Adamsian connotations, Remus was sitting quietly in the kitchen at number twelve Grimmauld place. His tea was steeping and Molly's latest batch of biscuits was still warm when a knock came at the kitchen door. Not the front door, which would have woken Mrs Black's portrait, but the door which lead from the back of the kitchen to the sunken courtyard under the main steps. Whoever it was had climbed into the Area and pushed their way through the vines. They had also gotten through the wards. Remus carefully removed the infuser from his teacup and picked up his wand.
The door was stiff, and when he finally forced it, it opened into ridiculously weak sunshine. There was a woman standing there, someone Remus did not recognise, except that he been at school at with four of the Black cousins. The woman was in her late twenties, or perhaps a little older, with long dark hair, pale grey eyes and a sharp nose. She had a bag slung over one shoulder and held it closed with tight fingers.
She narrowed her eyes when she saw him and turned her head to one side. The movement made her even more familiar to Remus. And she looked more like Sirius than Andromeda. He held his wand ready by his side, behind the doorframe. He wasn't sure how well the Muggle-repelling charms were working and he didn't want the Ministry to want to find him.
"You are Remus Lupin," she said in clear, but accented English.
"You are French," he said, tightening the grip on his wand.
She held a hand out to him.
"Marissa Black," she said.
Remus eyed the hand carefully, and didn't move. Marissa laughed, and the hairs on the back of Remus's neck rose. But he had nothing against which to gage the appropriate reaction, so he treated her the way he treated everyone else.
"Would you like a cup of tea?" he asked.
Marissa smiled slowly, gently. Remus felt the cold dark shape of his grief stir in his chest. He stepped out of the way, and Marissa brushed close to him as she stepped into the kitchen.
"This room needs to be cleaned," she said.
"We tried," Remus said shortly.
Marissa walked around the room, taking in the cupboards and the sink, running a hand along the bench and eventually settling down into a seat at the table. Remus kept a careful eye on her even as he re-boiled the kettle and spooned leaves into the pot.
"Are there any house elves left, or did Madame Enodia Black make them all mad?"
"Kreacher was the last. Dumbledore took him away."
"Ah, too bad. I will have to clean the house myself."
Marissa accepted the cup of tea Remus poured her and blew on it gently. Her eyes seemed almost purple in the light of the kitchen, and the less she looked like Sirius, the better Remus felt. She chose a biscuit from the plate and bit into it delicately. With this mundane proof of her substance, the reality of the broader situation reasserted itself.
"Who are you?" Remus asked.
Marissa laughed again. And sound was far less comforting this time.
"Arcturus Black is my grandfather. My mother was born before he married Enodia and had Sirius. Now Sirius is dead, this is my house."
"Do you have proof of your claim?" Remus asked.
He thought he remembered a drunken tale Sirius told years ago about familial indiscretion and relaxed slightly. Marissa herself wasn't particularly relaxing, and her presence was going to cause problems, even if it happened that her claim was upheld and her position was trustworthy.
Marissa opened her bag and pulled out a sheaf of papers. She handed them to Remus, who read them carefully as he drank his tea, and smiled.
"Pleased to meet you, Marissa," he said, surprised by how true the statement was.
She smiled a warm and gorgeous smile. "The pleasure is all mine."
Remus wasn't sure he agreed. But decided to keep that conversation for a later time.