With stuffy nose and grimy skin, dust covering every inch of his body, Harry sat on the dirty wood floor of the attic at Grimmauld Place and stared grimly at the horde of junk surrounding him.
“Harry?” Hermione’s shout echoed through the rafters of the rotten old house, followed by the clunk of footsteps up the stairs.
He shouted down to her, “Attic!” and then stood, glared at the mountain of broken and rusted old pureblood crap that had managed to pin him into one corner of the room. How had that happened? He had come upstairs to sort through and get rid of things. How had the collection gotten bigger?
It was breeding. Sentient. Planning to do him in in the night. There was no other explanation for it.
Grimacing, Harry turned side to side in a vain attempt to find a clear path back to the door. Seeing none, he sighed, abandoned all hope of a graceful exit, and stepped long over a mound of boxes and dishes and document sleeves and preserved house elf hands and cursed artifacts and family photos. His legs spread in a near-split that threatened to bust the crotch of his ratty old jeans wide open, and something crunched underneath the sole of his shoe as he attempted to balance.
“God, it still looks awful in here, doesn’t it?” Hermione murmured, unaware that her voice would carry well enough for Harry to hear. “What’s he been doing? I thought he was going to clean this place up.”
“Give him a break,” Ron said, and Harry appreciated the defense. “He’s only been back for a couple weeks.”
“He’s been back for three weeks,” Hermione corrected. “And he’s barely left the house. He’s been shut up in here all alone. He should have made more progress by now.”
Wobbly and inelegant, Harry crossed the rest of the room in three more long strides, narrowly avoiding busting through a painting but fully stumbling and bumping into a shelf with an old bird cage on top. A dozen petrified Cornish pixies, little glass beads where their eyes had been and mouths pulled into wide rigor mortis grins, all dressed in tiny, delicate tea party attire, tumbled onto his head. Ugh. Those were horrifying. He flinched and swatted the macabre dolls away. A few more steps and he was free. He threw the door to the attic open wide and hollered down, “I can hear you!”
The top of Hermione’s bushy brown curls bounced into view as she came up the stairs. “Hi Harry! It’s so good to see you! It’s been too long!” The pleasant chirp of her voice was tight and fake, and Harry glared at her as he held the door open. She ignored him and strode into the attic like she owned it. “What have you been up to? Have you been working on the house? It looks better! It looks like you’ve been – OH DEAR GOD.”
She gasped, clamped a hand to her mouth, and stumbled backwards as she nearly walked right into a tidy row of severed, desiccated house elf heads.
Ron caught her by the elbow and held her upright while Harry smirked.
Fake politeness dropped (it never was something Hermione could maintain for long…she was never at home in the high society tendency to kill-with-kindness, and instead preferred to kill-with-righteous-fury-and-superior-facts), she whirled on him. “Harry, it looks awful in here. What the hell have you been doing for the past three weeks?”
“I know! I know it looks awful in here.” Harry gestured widely to the dusty old mess all around them. Three weeks in, and he really should have made more progress, he knew. The house on Grimmauld had been sitting vacant for the three years after the war while Harry lived with the Weasleys for a while, then Ginny for a while, then slept on Ron and Hermione’s couch for a while, and then travelled for a while. Now, Harry was back and ready to settle down in one place for longer than a while, but the house was overwhelming. Kreacher had retired to Hogwarts and the house decayed more and more as it stood empty. “I’ve been drowning in Black family heirlooms! It’s awful! I don’t know where to start!”
Hand on her hip and glint in her eye, Hermione took stock of the room around her and declared, “Start with a rubbish bag and a trip to the dump.”
Ron nodded. “Or a couple of vanishing spells.”
Hermione glanced at him, thought lines crinkling her forehead. “Don’t vanished objects tend to reappear in odd places?”
“Sure.” Ron shrugged. “But then it wouldn’t be Harry’s problem anymore. It would be the problem of whichever poor sod woke up to find house elf heads scattered round his garden.”
Hermione snorted a laugh and rolled her eyes, but insisted, “We’re not doing that.”
“I can’t just get rid of it all,” Harry said.
“Why not? That’s what we did the summer we were all living here, when we started to clean it out.”
“I know, but…” The words caught in Harry’s throat, the real reason he was having so much difficulty cleaning out the dark, broken old home his godfather left him. It was sentimental and foolish, but it paralyzed him. Unable to look at his friends, he muttered, “That was before.”
“Oh, Harry.” Hermione softened, understanding rushing through her in an instant. “Sirius didn’t leave you this house so you could feel trapped and surrounded by all the things he hated. He hoped you’d be the one to finally make it feel like a home.”
“I know. I know he hated most of this. But what if he didn’t hate all of it? What if some of it’s important? What if some of it is stuff he would want me to keep? I’ve never had things before. Family things.” Harry shrugged and said to his shoes, “I can’t just throw it all out. It’s not right.”
Hermione looked at him sadly, her brown eyes gentle.
“You could take it to an antique shop,” Ron said. “A good antiquer could tell you if something has history and is worth hanging on to. And they could help you sort through and sell the stuff you don’t want.”
“That’s a really good idea,” Hermione said, only a mild tone of surprise.
Ron smirked. “I have them once in a while.”
She smiled back, and while they flirted and made eyes at each other, Harry stared at the mountain of junk and considered the option. It wouldn’t be perfect. Going through the things he knew belonged to Sirius would still be hard. But an antique shop could help him make practical decisions about what to toss and what to sell. “Yeah, alright,” he said. “I’ll find an antique shop to take some of this stuff to.”
“There’s one that Mum goes to, a few blocks off of Diagon Alley. Does really good work, she says. The shop owner is…” Ron trailed off and cleared his throat. Harry noticed the way Ron’s eyes skittered away from his own, refusing to make contact and darting nervously about the room, but he didn’t think much of it. “Well, he takes a bit of getting used to. But Mum says he’s really good at his job. She’s gone there a few times. I can get you the address.”
“Yeah, that would be great. I just need a bit of expert help.” Harry could deal with whatever surly old man ran the antique shop. Anything was better than living like this, smothered by dark memories with no end in sight. “I’ll sell some of it. Throw some away. Get it all cleared out. Make it a home.”
Ron and Hermione shared a look, then smiled and nodded. Hermione crossed her arms over her chest and peered at the row of house elf heads. Disdain and horror tightened her mouth. “What do we do with them? I don’t suppose an antique shop is going to want to appraise and sell them off.”
All three of them grimaced and stared at the wrinkled old heads.
“Bury them?” Ron said. “Cremate them maybe?”
Another moment of silence stretched out before a rather horrifying question popped into Harry’s mind, and he asked it quietly. “Where are the rest of their bodies?”
“Ugh! Oh, god!” A vicious shudder ripped along Hermione’s spine. She scrunched her eyes shut and backed away from the house elf heads. “That’s completely barbaric. Come on. Let’s please get out of this room.”
She pushed past them and stomped down the stairs.
“We’d better go calm her down before she gets herself worked into a rage and sets the house on fire.” Ron clapped Harry on the shoulder. “I’ll help you bury them in the garden later.”
“Yeah.” Harry grimaced as he glanced back at the house elf heads, and then once more at the pile of junk that would soon find its way into new homes. Or the dump. Or buried in the garden. “Thanks.”