"Welcome home, Harry."
Just hearing those words had a profound effect on Harry Potter. It was like he had unwrapped a Christmas present and inside had been a Cheering Charm. Joy was bursting out of him. His grin was uncontrollable. Home. Harry had come home.
"Thank you, Sirius. It's good to have a home."
Sirius Black, Harry's godfather and guardian, raised his arms dramatically. "Welcome to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. May it fall in on itself from dry rot," he declared. "I've been back only a few weeks, and I already want to move."
It certainly was a right mess. They were in a long, high-ceilinged room with olive green walls covered by dirty tapestries. The carpet exhaled little clouds of dust when Harry stepped on it, and the long, moss green velvet curtains were buzzing as though swarming with invisible bees.
Probably infested with Doxys.
"It's not Privet Drive; that's all I care about," Harry said encouragingly. Privet Drive, where Harry had lived before now, was an awful place where Harry was both despised and feared. It was home to his mother's Muggle sister and her non-magical family. Harry had lived there after his parents were murdered. "We'll fix whatever's wrong with it."
"Everything is wrong with it."
"Then we'll fix everything. We'll start with something small. We'll get it done. Then the rest won't seem so bad."
"It's going to be a long haul to get this place fit for human habitation again. It's been empty for nine years now, ever since my dear mother died. That is, unless you count her old house-elf, and he's gone round the twist. Old Kreacher hasn't cleaned anything in ages. I did manage to get the big stuff out of one of the guest rooms for you, though," Sirius offered.
"Sounds good. Let's go."
"Okay, but until we get there, we have to be absolutely quiet if we can help it at all."
"I'll explain upstairs."
Sirius levitated Harry's trunk and opened the door.
Beyond the drawing room was almost total darkness. Harry could smell damp, dust and a sweetish, rotting smell; the place had the feeling of a derelict building. There was a soft hissing noise, and then old-fashioned gas lamps sputtered into life all along the walls, casting a flickering, insubstantial light over the peeling wallpaper and threadbare carpet of a long, gloomy hallway. The bannister on the right side gave one what must have once been a fantastic view. A cobwebby chandelier glimmered overhead.
Sirius led the way towards the far end of the landing where a grand staircase wound down to the ground floor and up to the second floor. The dark staircase was decorated with a row of shrunken heads mounted on plaques on the wall. A closer look showed Harry that the heads belonged to house-elves. All of them had the same rather snout-like nose.
Good grief, what sort of family does my godfather come from?
Dark, he realized. Sirius had turned on his family and become a pariah. Well, he was still around, so who had been right? If the family had been evil, maybe Sirius could now redeem their name.
The steps and the heads went on for ages. When Sirius moved towards the stairs leading up to the fourth floor, Harry wondered if he'd been cursed to forever climb steps and never get anywhere like some Muggle exercise machine. Then Sirius turned right and opened the door with the stacks of boxes next to it.
A single canopy bed dominated the centre of the room but didn't make one feel cramped. The ceiling was easily thrice Harry's height. The thick layer of dust had been recently disturbed, Harry could see, and the curtains on the windows looked to have been beaten out.
If Aunt Petunia had been asked to even set foot in this dirty place, she would have gossipped about it for weeks. Harry, on the other hand, dragged his trunk right in and dropped it with a thump on the hardwood floor.
"My room," he said, trying out the sound of the phrase. It felt good. Forget the dirt and dust and grime and Merlin only knew what else. Harry didn't care that he would have to clean it up a bit -- okay, a lot. He was standing in his bedroom in his home with his godfather.
"Absolutely. I know I cleaned this one out for you and we're working on it first, but once we get the rest of the house attended to, you can have your pick of bedroom," Sirius said anxiously. "I mean, if you don't like this room, that is."
"Are you kidding?" Harry had slept for eleven years in a cupboard under the stairs and had been given his cousin Dudley's second bedroom only because his Muggle relatives feared magic so much. The idea of picking which room he wanted for his own was incomprehensible to him.
"With one exception, naturally. I've already moved back into my old room up on the fourth. I really had to think to remember the keys to my Locking Hexes."
"Hexes?" Harry knew about Locking Charms , but not Hexes.
"Charms with a bite."
"Do they teach those at Hogwarts?"
"Only in NEWT-level Charms. Part of learning to pick magical locks is learning how to create them in the first place."
"I imagine the hex gives them lots of incentive to succeed," Harry observed slyly.
"Oh yes. The basic concept is easy enough. You create a magical containment field and cast the hex into it. Then you place the hex inside the Locking Charm and harmonize the two fields. Withdraw the containment field, and via the symmetry property, the Locking Charm now fully incorporates the hex and will release it upon the charm being broken."
"And I understood all that. What class do they teach you how to talk like that?"
Harry snickered, and Sirius joined in a second later. "McGonagall," Harry laughed ruefully.
"Yah, she wears brass knickers, but she knows her stuff. She's an Animagus, and that's the best there is with Transfiguration."
"You're an Animagus, too. So was my dad. Why aren't your Transfiguration marks in the school records?"
Sirius laughed sharply. "Well, we couldn't let on, could we? I left the OWL twenty minutes early to go have a snog and still scored an O, but James did phenomenal with an O plus, which amazed McGonagall, and she let us both into the advanced class."
"You left a test to go kiss a girl?" Harry wondered if he believed that. "Who?"
"The prettiest girl in school."
"Wasn't that my mum?"
"Close, but not quite. Greta Olafsdottir, a wonderful girl with a wretched last name. Fat blonde pigtails, perfect milk-white skin, and the most pouty lips ever seen. She wanted to find a husband in the worst way. Nobody ever wondered why she was Sorted to Slytherin."
"You went snogging with a Slytherin girl?"
"A bit, yes. I wasn't the marrying kind, so she moved on quickly, but it was an educational few weeks. James swore he'd see it carved in my tombstone, 'I snogged a Slytherin.'"
Harry shook his head in rueful amusement. He loved hearing stories about his dad. James Potter and Sirius Black had been best friends in their school years. As nice as old stories were though, his curiosity was still piqued.
"So you were going to explain about being quiet earlier?"
"Ah, yes. Well, you see, you don't want to wake up my mother's portrait. She and I don't get along, so she tends to start frothing at the mouth when she sees me. I've covered her up with curtains, but if she hears us, she'll start shrieking like the harpy she was." Sirius' grim tone left no doubt as to his feelings towards her in return.
"So what do you say we get started? We'll figure out how to get her down later."
" Scourgify! " Harry's wand let off a jet of pale blue light that sank into the layers of dust, stirring it up a bit. "It didn't work!"
"Give it a few more tries," Sirius encouraged him.
Harry did, and after a couple of spells he could see the floor. It wasn't polished, but at least the wood was visible. Amazingly enough, the hardwood appeared to be all one piece!
"Well done, Harry!" Sirius cheered.
"It feels weird to be using magic and not be at Hogwarts." Normally students were restricted from using magic outside of school before they turned seventeen. Officially the Ministry policy applied to all students. Unofficially, only households with Muggles present were spelled with the Monitoring Charms.
"No more worries of that! Here, let's open the window and get a bit of light in here."
The grime on the window vanished with another Scouring Charm from Sirius, and daylight flooded into the room, partly blinding Harry, whose eyes had adjusted to the dimness.
Together, the pair made quick work of the dust and filth. Harry relished the feeling of magic passing from his hand and through his wand, and he loved hearing Sirius tell stories about his dad. He felt like the luckiest boy on Earth. When the room was presentable, Harry opened his trunk and began emptying the contents onto the newly visible floor.
Sirius watched him for a few moments. "Harry, I don't think you have enough stuff in your trunk. We should go shopping at once; then you won't be able to close it at all.
Harry laughed. "Well it is a small trunk, isn't it? Anyway, this is everything I own. I never had anything until a few years ago."
Sirius' smile vanished into a scowl. "My fault," he whispered.
"No!" Harry said forcefully. "Their fault! Stupid, narrow-minded Muggles!"
Sirius didn't look convinced.
"It's just stuff. It's not important."
"You're right, Harry." Sirius tapped his chest. "It's what's in here that counts, not the things you surround yourself with."
Harry opened the closet and snapped off three quick cleaning spells. He carried an armful of his clothes over and began hanging them neatly on the rod. Sirius handed him empty hangers as needed and brought over another stack of clothes.
"Pretty groovy threads you've got," Sirius said, breaking the silence.
"I actually chose very little of this," Harry confessed. "Millie's mum is a fashion designer, and between her and Tracy's mum, my first Christmas at Hogwarts felt like I'd been given a haberdashery."
"How much of it have you grown out of?" Sirius asked slyly.
"All of it."
"It's a good thing we have magic, then. When we have some time, I'll show you how to resize your clothes without ruining them. Which reminds me of the time your dad offered to help Moony ask out Tabitha Norton. Well, Moony didn't have much style, so Prongs loaned him a nice outfit and robe and fed him all kinds of horrendous lines to use. Well, Prongs was either careless with his spell or feeling mischievous, because right when Moony opened his mouth, the entropic forces of the Transfiguration absolutely disintegrated the fabric, leaving the poor bastard standing there in his altogether."
Harry laughed loudly. The image of his former Defence professor naked was not one he needed, but if it let him laugh with his godfather, he'd accept it.
"Tally prank," he noted.
"Pretty elementary," Sirius replied. "If I were to tell you about all the pranks we pulled, we won't get any cleaning done until it's time for you to go back to school."
"Well, I can't leave the whole mess for you, so let's get to it. We can talk and work at the same time. I'm hungry. Let's go clean the kitchen."
"Brilliant idea," Sirius agreed. "I'll give you the tour later. Remember to be quiet on the stairs."
They stepped as quietly as they could down the horrible stairway with its grisly decorations and skirted around a large umbrella stand that looked as though it had been made from a severed troll's leg. They crossed in front of a pair of long, moth-eaten curtains on the wall of the stair, and Harry knew that was Mother Black. They turned right, went through a door on the right and down a set of narrow stone steps, through another door leading into the basement kitchen.
There was no light, and Sirius lit his wand, casting a beam of brightness into the room. It was scarcely less gloomy than the hall above, a cavernous room with rough stone walls. They saw the menacing shapes of heavy iron pots and pans hanging from the dark ceiling, dust-covered counters, and sinks filled with horrible surprises.
Harry followed Sirius into the kitchen with his own wand in his hand. He spied the fireplace at the far end of the room, and, with a swish and flick, he shot a small ball of fire into it. Eventually a dim orange light began to illuminate the darkness.
"Charming," he said.
"Disgusting, more like. Scourgify! "
"So what happened to Moony? With that girl, I mean."
"It was pretty awful, actually. My esteemed colleague in crime and capers has what is sometimes delicately referred to as a 'furry problem'. It's quite a correct choice of phrase, because he's almost a rug, even when it's a new moon. He covered himself up fairly well and bolted for the nearest door."
Harry snickered. "Where did this happen? In the Great Hall, right?"
"No," Sirius said regretfully. "That would have been kingly. As it was, Moony asked right before Charms class. He bolted for the door. Pinchface Professor Pinnichot chose that precise moment to arrive, stopped dead in her tracks, and in the faintest voice you can imagine said, 'Mister Lupin, please explain this.' Moony, wit that he is -- how he ever managed this I'll never know -- he looks dead at her and says, 'Professor, I regret to report only partial success with my Disillusionment Charm.'"
Harry threw back his head and howled with laughter. Sirius roared with him, and together they pounded on the floor, sending the dust billowing around.
"Pinchface," Sirius gasped, "Pinchface, she- she just puts her briefcase down, walks up to Dumbledore's office, and hands in her notice."
"She quit?" Harry was astounded.
"I guess we just finally broke her spirit. Flitwick started the next week. We never saw Pinchface again."
"Incredible," Harry marvelled.
"Poor Tabby, though, she never recovered. She practically stalked old Moony the rest of the year. Him, he never got over it enough to not hide when he saw her. Prongs apologized to Moony as soon as he stopped laughing, which took about a day and a half. I'm afraid I took considerably longer."
"That's about right."
"Goyle put ink in Theo's tea one time. His teeth got stained black for two days because of it." It wasn't a prank on the level of your mate getting starkers for a whole class, but you had to appreciate the small jokes as well.
Sirius chuckled. "We did a lot with ink. I imagine he was quite upset, no?"
"Oh yes, and Pansy still brings it up when she hasn't got anything else bad to say about him. He starts cursing every time. They're always having a go at each other."
"Only with words?"
"Pretty awful talk, but yeah, words."
"Interesting," Sirius said ponderingly. "Theo seems a decent fellow."
"He's the smartest person I know," said Harry. "He thinks about things differently. His dad's a researcher, so maybe that has something to do with it."
"The scientific process does tend to sharpen one's ability to reason."
"But it's magic," protested Harry.
"The scientific process applies just as much to magic as it does to science," Sirius said firmly. "We learned that while undertaking our illegal studies."
"Yes," Harry said. "About that."
"What about it?" Sirius replied in a light-hearted tone.
"Will you teach me?" Harry had hinted at it before, but now he asked outright. "I want to be like you and my dad."
"Of course I will teach you, Harry. I'll have you transforming in no time at all. The son of Prongs can't help but learn it handily."
Harry felt a rush of anticipation. He was going to be an Animagus! He wasn't even fourteen yet! "Thank you! Wow! Tally!"
"After we get the house into a livable condition, we'll put the time aside for it. Until then, all our efforts are required here. Scourgify! "
They did not finish work on the kitchen that night. The place was simply too big and dirty for only two wizards to tackle on their own. Well past dinner time, Sirius called it quits, and they stretched out on the clean counters to figure out what to eat.
"The kitchen is not usable," Sirius declared, "and I'm only moderately capable in that regard anyway. We must buy our food tonight."
"Where do you want to go?" Harry asked. "Leaky Cauldron? Three Broomsticks?"
"I was thinking more like pizza delivery," Sirius clarified. "I haven't had a pizza in twelve years."
"Me either," Harry said. "The Muggles."
"You're joking. You're not joking. Oh, it's disgusting! That's it! We're going out for pizza. I've just realized there's no telephone here."
"Why don't we firecall Wizard Pizza?" Harry asked.
"There's no such thing."
"Well why not?"
"Pizza is not very popular in the wizarding world. Too Muggle-ish for the elite set. Too messy, too. Snotty bastards don't want to stain their satin dresses."
"I suppose anyone who was Muggle-born or half-blood could just order Muggle pizza," Harry said regretfully. Wizard pizza sounded wonderfully mysterious.
So they took a stroll around the neighborhood. They were only a mile or so from King's Cross station, Harry realized from the street signs. The pizza they ended up getting at a little hole in the wall sort of restaurant was perhaps the best thing Harry had ever eaten. The crust was incredibly thick, covered in pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, peppers, and five different cheeses. Sirius practically had his eyes rolled back in his head and would periodically moan in bliss as he chewed. Harry didn't know if it was quite that good, but he had no problems devouring his half of the pie. In fact, they ordered a second and made a sizeable dent in it; the leftovers they packed home for breakfast in the morning. As good as the food was, though, Harry was more impressed that Sirius had no problems at all handling Muggle money.
Their walk back to Grimmauld Place was leisurely, and Sirius seemed to just like the feeling of the light summer breeze in his face. Harry took in the sights of the very nicely kept gardens in front of the houses. Elaborate shrub pruning had been done on this block.
Harry wanted to spend more time with Sirius and hear more stories about his dad. He said as much to Sirius, but his godfather demurred.
"After today's work, I'm completely knackered," he begged off. "I think I'd get to the punchlines and start snoring. What do you say we pick up first thing in the morning?"
"Well, okay," Harry said, feeling slightly disappointed. His first day in his new home had been so wonderful he didn't want it to end.
"If we can get that kitchen accomplished by noon, I think we'll be ahead of schedule." Harry considered that to be a grossly optimistic timeframe. "Then we can take a tour of this dump and decide which room we're going to treat to the Black-Potter Backbeat next. Moony said he might drop by tomorrow, so we can put him to work too."
"It's going to be weird seeing him when he's not my teacher," Harry admitted. "It's going to take me ages to stop calling him 'Professor'. Which brings up a point: what do I call him?" Harry wasn't sure he could suddenly flip from classroom formality to the familiarity of "Remus".
"Well, you should ask him yourself. I expect he'll tell you whatever you're comfortable with. If you want to call him Moony, he's certainly heard it before. If you need to call him sir, I'll try not to laugh at him too much. For a more moderate position, I suggest you try Remus rather than Mister Lupin. It is his name, after all, and he's your father's friend, not your friend's father."
That made a certain amount of sense. "He won't think I'm silly for asking, will he?"
"Not at all, Harry." Sirius shook his head gently. "It's quite natural to wonder about a changing situation. When you don't know what's going on, you can do one of two things: observe and hope to eventually figure it out or ask someone else. Asking generally saves time and prevents catastrophic damage."
Harry felt a rush of relief. "Thanks, Sirius. I'll ask him tomorrow, first thing."
"Good. Get it out in the open and deal with it." Sirius nodded firmly.
A pungent smell of rotting rubbish came from the pile of bulging bin-bags just inside the broken gate of number eleven. Harry fought the urge to hold his nose as they climbed the worn stone steps to number twelve. Harry noticed now the shabby and scratched black paint.
Sirius drew his wand and tapped the door in a complicated rhythm. The clunking sound of locks disengaging was followed by the thump of a chain falling against the heavy wood. The twisted serpent that was the doorknocker bowed its head, and the door swung open with an ominous creak.
Harry and Sirius were silent as they crept on tip-toe past the moth-eaten curtains that shielded Mother Black from seeing those she hated. Around the troll's leg umbrella stand, up the stairway lined with house elf heads, and onto the third floor landing they hurried as quietly as they could.
"There," Sirius said sourly. "First thing I should've done is figured out how to get that harridan off the wall. You don't perchance happen to know how to break a Permanent Sticking Charm?"
"Maybe Moony knows. He studied more than me."
"I bet you could teach Transfiguration."
Sirius laughed. "Yes, I'm sure you would. Soon, Harry, I promise."
His cunning Slytherin trick had failed. "Well, I guess we'd best get an early start. Is five o'clock too early for you?"
"Five o-" Sirius sputtered, staring down at Harry with wide eyes.
"Yeah. I do it all the time. Quidditch, you know. Youngest Seeker in a century. Flint was a daemon with his practice schedules. Early morning put us under stress. By learning to play while tired, he toughened us up until we could do it easily. Four-thirty?" Harry didn't know how much longer he could keep a straight face. He was on summer holiday, and if he got up before ten it would be an accident.
Sirius studied him for several long moments, no doubt wondering if Harry was putting him on. "How about seven?"
"My room is the first door at the top of the stairs if you need anything. I'll leave it open just in case."
"I'll be fine."
Sirius smiled. "Good night, then, Harry."
"Good night, Sirius."
Harry turned the serpent's head doorknob and went into his room. He pulled out his pyjamas and changed for bed. Throwing back the sheets, he lay down and stared at the canopy. His mind was racing with thoughts of today and tomorrow and then next day. He didn't want to sleep. The gas lights seemed to know he was supposed to sleep, though, because they slowly dimmed to darkness. Harry lay in the dark, covers pulled up to his chin.
Sirius was a very jovial fellow, and lots of his stories had funny punchlines. He was smart and clever, and he was going to teach Harry some special magic. He also had some pretty wise words. All in all, this whole godfather thing was better than Harry had ever dreamed about.
When Remus Lupin arrived at 12 Grimmauld Place, Harry and Sirius were hard at work in the kitchen again. He strolled casually into the room and sat himself down at the table where Sirius had just poured goblets of ice water.
"Thank you, Padfoot. Don't mind if I do."
"Good morning, Moony. Nice of you to drop by."
"Is the work done yet?"
"Does it look done yet?"
"I recall your part of the dorm was always a sty. I figured maybe you'd cleaned to your normal standards."
Sirius winced. "Remember that time I brought Connie O'Ryan back to the dorm and all the stuff I'd shoved into my wardrobe burst out right when things were getting interesting?"
"She reacted rather violently, as I remember," Lupin said amusedly. "Grabbed her wand and starting hexing everything in sight. Including you."
"Including me," Sirius echoed mournfully. "Never date an Auror's daughter. She burnt off half my hair!"
"The smell lingered for days," Lupin confided to Harry. "He was too proud to go to the hospital wing, so he just skived class until it wore off."
"Don't ever do that, Harry," Sirius cautioned. "The itching will drive you crazy."
Harry sipped at his water, thankful for the break. He and Sirius had been hard at work since early morning. Between cold sips, he admired the goblet. It was heavy and silver, still gleaming despite the fact that nobody had polished it. The Black family crest had been embossed on the side.
"Padfoot, may I impose on you to give me a goblet that won't poison me?"
"What, don't you like fifteenth-century goblin-wrought silver?" Sirius asked in a fake-impatient tone.
"Not particularly, no. The crystal, if you please?"
Sirius waved his wand and Summoned a wine goblet from the glass cabinet. "Watch yourself, Moony, that's cut diamond there."
Lupin nearly knocked the goblet over. "This goblet is diamond?" he choked.
"If you need an ostentatious display of wealth, diamonds are a winner every time." Sirius said deploringly.
"Isn't cut diamond sort of, well, dangerous?" Harry asked.
"Certainly, but that's part of the fun. Don't you know?" Sirius' expression said he didn't consider the prospect at all fun.
"I heal fast," Lupin declared, and he delicately grasped the goblet by the stem. "So really, how does the work go? The kitchen is looking fairly well off."
"Harry's room is done. This place will be wrapped up in a few hours or so. You're just in time for the grand tour I was planning."
"I can't wait."
Sirius stood up with a tall stretch. "You're going to have to. There's been too much sitting around and not enough cleaning," he declared. "We've had a long enough break, Harry. Moony, draw your wand."
Though Harry groaned with the effort, with an extra wizard lending a wand the remainder of the kitchen was cleaned to Sirius' satisfaction in about an hour. They washed up at the now clean sinks and silently went up the stairs into the manor proper.
The ground floor was mostly taken up by the entry hall, and a shaft of empty space went up to the top floor. On one side were two doors leading to the ballroom and the library. Opposite, three doors led to the dining room, sitting room, and what Sirius not-so-jokingly called the arsenal room. It contained several suits of armour, and the walls were decorated with various swords and other weapons. Comfortable-looking chairs were covered in layers of dust.
"A room for men," Sirius clarified. "Mother refused to set foot in here."
On the first floor landing, there were three doors on the right wall and one door at the end of the hall. This was the drawing room, where they'd come through the Floo. The near door was a very nice bathroom, serving the two bedrooms.
The second floor was home to a number of rooms, including a nursery, a rather large bedroom intended for a live-in nanny, and two other rooms of the right. On the left, more grown up rooms were present, including a collection of art, an array of classic torture devices, and a spacious dueling room.
"I say we get this place clean next," Harry opined. "It must have been smashing once upon a time."
The dominant feature of the third floor was unquestionably the master suite, which occupied the entire front wall. There were no rooms on the front wall on the lower floors, so the whole thing seemed to float in mid-air. Two expansive bedrooms were on either side of the open space. Harry was currently lodged in the one nearest the stairs to the fourth floor. Two baths were found on this level: one next to Harry's room, and one at the top of the stairs.
The fourth and final floor was very small, barely more than a balcony. Two doors, clearly marked 'Sirius' and 'Regulus' identified them. A steep stair tucked into the wall between the two rooms led to an attic.
"There you are, gentlemen," Sirius said grandly. "What do you think?"
"It's brilliant," Harry said honestly. He could see past the dust and dirt and grime. He ignored the cobwebs and the creepy-crawlies. So there were places where Dark magic had run wild. It was still home.
"Did you ever think, Padfoot, that you'd be showing a Potter and a werewolf around this old place?"
"Not in my wildest dreams." Sirius paused for a moment of reflection. "So, shall we make an attempt on my mother's portrait, or would you rather clean something else?"
Harry considered. "Well, we want to make a good impression on any visitors, so why don't we take a pass at the drawing room?"
"It's as good a reason as any," Sirius said agreeably. "To the first floor! Gravitas penna! " And with that, he leapt over the railing!
Harry's heart lurched in his chest, but then he translated the Latin and realized that Sirius had cast a spell to slow his descent. His godfather floated down to the first floor and opened the drawing room door.
Lupin cast the Featherfall Charm on Harry and himself. They floated down together in the dusty air. Harry landed lightly next to Sirius, who had watched his descent anxiously.
"I bet that saves time," Harry said with a grin.
"Dead useful spell, you know."
Sirius walked across the room to where an immensely old tapestry hung the length of the wall and stared up at it with disgust plain on his face. It was faded and looked as though Doxys had gnawed it in places. Nevertheless, the golden thread with which it was embroidered still glinted brightly enough to show them a sprawling family tree dating back (as far as Harry could tell) to the Middle Ages. Large words at the very top of the tapestry read:
The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black
"I haven't looked at this for years," Sirius said, not sounding very wistful. "There's Phineas Nigellus, my great-great-grandfather, see? He was the least popular Headmaster Hogwarts ever had. Araminta Mehflua, a cousin of my mother's. She tried to force through a Ministry Bill to make Muggle-hunting legal. Ah, dear Aunt Elladora! She started the family tradition of beheading house-elves when they got too old to carry tea trays. Of course, any time the family produced someone halfway decent they were disowned."
Harry had seen the Black family tree once before at Malfoy Manor. It was how he had discovered that he was distantly cousins with Sirius (via a Charlus Potter who had married into the Black clan) and also with his best mate Draco Malfoy. Draco's mother, Narcissa Black Malfoy, was Sirius' first cousin.
"The pure-blood families are all interrelated," said Sirius. "If you're only going to let your sons and daughters marry pure-bloods your choice is very limited; there are hardly any of us left."
There were a few notable differences. Harry saw a small, round, charred hole in the tapestry, rather like a cigarette burn, obscuring a name between Narcissa and Bellatrix. Harry blinked. The copy of the Black family tree he'd seen at Malfoy Manor had shown only two sisters. He peered closer, wondering what other discrepancies might be found.
"You're not on here!" said Harry, after scanning the bottom of the tree closely.
"As I said, the good ones were disowned. I used to be there," said Sirius, pointing at another black mark. "My sweet old mother blasted me off after I ran away from home. Kreacher's quite fond of muttering the story under his breath."
"You ran away from home?"
"When I was about sixteen," said Sirius. "I'd had enough."
"Where did you go?" asked Harry, staring at him.
"Your dad's place," said Sirius. "Your grandparents were really good about it; they sort of adopted me as a second son. Yeah, I camped out at your dad's in the school holidays, and when I was seventeen I got a place of my own. My Uncle Alphard had left me a decent bit of gold. He's been wiped off here, too; that's probably why. Anyway, after that I looked after myself. I was always welcome at Mister and Missus Potter's for Sunday lunch, though."
"Why did you leave?"
Sirius smiled bitterly and ran his fingers through his long hair. "I hated the whole lot of them: my parents, with their pure-blood mania, convinced that to be a Black made you practically royal; my idiot brother, soft enough to believe them." Sirius jabbed a finger at the very bottom of the tree, at the name Regulus Black. A date of death (some fifteen years previously) followed the date of birth.
"He was younger than me," said Sirius, "and a much better son, as I was constantly reminded."
"But he died," said Harry.
"Yeah," said Sirius. "Stupid idiot that he was, he joined the Death Eaters."
"Come on, Harry, haven't you seen enough of this house to tell what kind of wizards my family were?" Sirius asked testily.
"I know that, but still. Were- were your parents Death Eaters as well?"
"No, no, but believe me, they thought Voldemort had the right idea. They were all for the purification of the wizarding race, getting rid of Muggle-borns and having pure-bloods in charge. They weren't alone, either, there were quite a few people, before Voldemort showed his true colours, who thought he had the right idea about things. They got cold feet when they saw what he was prepared to do to get power, though. But I bet my parents thought Regulus was a right little hero for joining up at first."
"Was he killed by an Auror?" Harry asked tentatively.
"Oh, no," said Sirius. "No, he was murdered by Voldemort, or on Voldemort's orders, more likely; I doubt Regulus was ever important enough to be killed by Voldemort in person. From what I found out after he died, he got in so far, then panicked about what he was being asked to do and tried to back out. Well, you don't just hand in your resignation to Voldemort. It's a lifetime of service or death."
"Who's this?" Harry asked, pointing at the burn mark between Bellatrix and Narcissa.
"My favorite cousin, Andromeda," said Sirius. "Andromeda's sisters are still here because they made lovely, respectable pure-blood marriages, but Andromeda married a Muggle-born, Ted Tonks. They've got a daughter a few years older than you."
Harry didn't quite know what to say to that, so he turned away from the tapestry and took in the rest of the room. The most prominent problem was the Doxy-infested curtains. Sirius waved his wand and Summoned a number of large bottles of black liquid with a nozzle at the end. Harry was reminded very much of a Muggle exterminator spraying for ants.
"I laid in a large order of Doxycide after I took a look at the house," Sirius explained as they prepared, tying protective cloths over their nose and mouth. "When I say the word, start spraying immediately. They'll most likely come flying out at us, but one good squirt will paralyze them. When they're immobilized, just throw them in this bucket. Be careful, because Doxys bite and their teeth are poisonous. I've got a bottle of antidote here, but I'd rather nobody needed it."
Harry, Lupin, and Sirius readied themselves for the worst. "All right - squirt!"
Harry had been spraying only a few seconds when a fully-grown Doxy came soaring out of a fold in the material. It had shiny, beetle-like wings that whirred like a mosquito. Harry could see tiny needle-sharp teeth bared at him. Its fairy-like body was covered with thick black hair, and its four tiny fists were clenched with fury. Harry caught it full in the face with a blast of Doxycide. It froze in midair and fell with a surprisingly loud thunk to the worn carpet below. Harry picked it up and threw it in the bucket.
The de-Doxying of the curtains took most of the rest of the day. The curtains were no longer buzzing; they hung limp and damp from the intensive spraying. At the foot of them unconscious Doxys lay crammed in the bucket beside a bowl of their black eggs. The three men lounged in the chairs when their work was done. Nobody was quite willing to say goodbye, and so they talked long into the night.
"I can't wait to see Mother's face when she meets you, Moony."
"I thought we didn't want to hear her," Harry wondered.
"Normally, no," Sirius replied, "but we're got to clean the hallway at some point or another. She'll hear us casting the cleaning spells. Best to get it over with as soon as possible so that it's not looming over us. Besides, we must give our best effort to getting her off that wall. Moony, know anything about Permanent Sticking Charms?"
"They're permanent," Lupin deadpanned.
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Do you know anything about reversing them?"
"Sort of negates the concept of permanent, now, doesn't it?"
"Will you stop that?" Sirius demanded.
"I'm only trying to help you understand, Padfoot," Lupin said innocently.
"If there's one thing I understand, it's Padfoot."
Harry cracked a smile as Lupin snickered. "Ah, my old friend, I have missed you."
"I missed you, too," Sirius said quietly, suddenly sober. "The dementors took most of my happy thoughts away, but I never forgot about you. I lived through arriving at Godric's Hollow more times than I'd care to count. The number of times I faced Peter in the street is without measure, but I held on to some of the good times when I was Padfoot. Being a dog helped, I think."
"Did you do it a lot?" Harry asked in a whisper.
"Very often. I think the only reason I never lost my mind is that I knew I was innocent. That wasn't a happy thought, so the dementors couldn't suck it out of me. It kept me sane and knowing who I am. It helped me keep my powers, so when it all became -- too much -- I could transform in my cell, become a dog. Dementors can't see, you know."
Sirius' own eyes were staring into nothingness, and Harry could tell he wasn't all there at the moment.
"They feel their way toward people by feeding off their emotions. They could tell that my feelings were less- less human, less complex when I was a dog. They thought, of course, that I was losing my mind like everyone else in there, so it didn't trouble them. I was weak, very weak, and I had no hope of driving them away from me without a wand.
"Then I saw Peter in that picture-"
Sirius reached inside his robes and took out a crumpled piece of paper, which he smoothed flat and held out to show them.
It was a photograph of the Weasley family that had appeared in the Daily Prophet the previous summer, and there, on Ronald's shoulder, was the rat Animagus that had been called Scabbers. Scabbers was more properly called Wormtail, also known as Peter Pettigrew.
"How did you get this?" Lupin asked Sirius, thunderstruck.
"Fudge," said Sirius. "When he came to inspect Azkaban last year, he gave me his paper. There was Peter, on the front page on this boy's shoulder. I knew him at once. How many times had I seen him transform? The caption said the boy would be going back to Hogwarts, to where Harry was. I realized he was perfectly positioned to act if one hint reached his ears that the Dark Side was gathering strength again. He was ready to strike at the moment he could be sure of allies, and to deliver the last Potter to them. If he gave them Harry, who'd dare say he'd betrayed Lord Voldemort? He'd be welcomed back with honours! So you see, I had to do something. Harry was in danger. I was the only one who knew Peter was still alive."
Harry remembered what Mr. Malfoy had told him. "He muttered in his dreams, 'He's at Hogwarts. He's at Hogwarts.'"
"You kept it? Still?" Harry felt goosebumps rising on his arms.
"It was as if someone had lit a fire in my head, and the dementors couldn't destroy it. It wasn't a happy feeling. More like it was an obsession, but it gave me strength; it cleared my mind. So, one night when they opened my door to bring food, I slipped past them as a dog. It's so much harder for them to sense animal emotions that they were confused.
"I was thin, very thin. Thin enough to slip through the bars, at least. I swam as a dog back to the mainland. From there, I journeyed north and slipped into the Hogwarts grounds as a dog. I lived in the forest, except when I came to watch the Quidditch, of course. You fly as well as your father did, Harry."
Sirius' attempt to change the subject was a bit clumsy, but Harry forgave him. The distance in Sirius' eyes when he'd been talking about Azkaban was scary. Being surrounded by dementors with no way to fight back was hellish enough to imagine for five minutes, and Sirius had survived for twelve years!
"Thank you. Flint worked us all over pretty good."
"There's training and then there's talent," Sirius declared. "You've got natural skill, kid. Be proud of it."
"Oh, I am," Harry nodded. "If there's one thing Slytherins have, it's pride."
"With the Slytherins I knew, it was more arrogance. We let it out of them on a fairly regular basis. The things we used to do to Sniv and the Dark Ones-"
"Sniv?" Harry asked.
"Old nickname of Snape's. Short for Snivellus. Tarring him with that was one of our earliest successes."
Harry couldn't imagine Severus Snape snivelling for anybody. Quite the opposite, actually; Snape often made students, particularly Gryffindors, fear for their house points, free time (via onerous detentions), and a professional dressing down delivered with the most razor-sharp sarcasm imaginable.
"Oh really?" Harry kept his voice neutral. Snape was one of his favourite teachers and Head of Slytherin to boot.
Sirius now looked uncomfortable. "I expect he's grown up a bit, but he used to be a right git."
"He's brilliant at Potions, and Defence, and just about everything else, to be fair."
"I've never said that old Sniv was dumb. It was part of what made the rivalry so interesting. The tricks we used to play were truly astounding."
"Astounding," Lupin repeated dryly. "Sure. Sirius here played a trick on Snape which nearly killed him, a trick which involved me-"
Sirius made a derisive noise. "It served him right," he scoffed. "Sneaking around, trying to find out what we were up to. He was hoping he could get us expelled!"
"Severus was very interested in where I went every month." Lupin told Harry. "We were in the same year, you know, and to put it mildly, we didn't like each other very much. He especially disliked James. Jealous, I think, of James's talent on the Quidditch field. Anyway, Snape had seen me crossing the grounds with Madam Pomfrey one evening as she led me toward the Whomping Willow to transform. Sirius thought it would be the height of intelligence to tell Snape all he had to do was prod the knot on the tree trunk with a long stick, and he'd be able to get in after me."
"He tried it?"
"He tried it," Lupin said, nodding. "If he'd got as far as the Shrieking Shack, he'd have met a fully grown werewolf. Your father, who'd heard what Sirius had done, went after Snape and pulled him back, at great risk to his life. Snape glimpsed me, though, at the end of the tunnel. He was forbidden by Dumbledore to tell anybody, but from that time on he knew what I was and hated me for it. That's why he spoke out so much against me during the school year."
"How did you become a werewolf?" Harry asked suddenly.
Sirius threw a sharp look at Harry, and he immediately flushed.
"That was so rude. I'm sorry, sir-" he started to babble, but Lupin didn't bat an eye.
"I was a very small boy when I received the Bite," he replied. "My parents tried everything, but in those days there was no cure. There still isn't. The potion that Snape was making for me is a very recent discovery. It makes me safe, you see. As long as I take it in the week preceding the full moon, I keep my mind when I transform. I was able to curl up in my office, a harmless wolf, and wait for the moon to wane again.
"Before the Wolfsbane Potion was discovered, however, I became a fully fledged monster once a month. It seemed impossible that I would be able to come to Hogwarts. Other parents weren't likely to want their children exposed to me. Then Dumbledore became Headmaster, and he was sympathetic. He said that as long as we took certain precautions, there was no reason I shouldn't come to school." Lupin sighed. "So, once a month, I was smuggled out of the castle, through the secret tunnel, and into the Shrieking Shack."
"Thank Merlin that Dumbledore was so open-minded. My years at Hogwarts were better than I could have imagined, because for the first time ever, I had friends, three great friends. Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, and James Potter. They deduced what I was and instead of reviling me, they became Animagi. It took them the best part of three years to work out how to do it. Your father and Sirius here were the cleverest students in the school and finally managed it in our fifth year.
"They sneaked out of the castle every month under James's invisibility cloak. They transformed. Under their influence, I became less dangerous. My body was still wolfish, but my mind seemed to become less so while I was with them.
"Highly exciting possibilities were open to us now that we could all transform. Soon we were leaving the Shrieking Shack and roaming the school grounds and the village by night. Sirius and James transformed into such large animals, they were able to keep a werewolf in check. I doubt whether any Hogwarts students ever found out more about the Hogwarts grounds and Hogsmeade than we did. That's how we came to write the Marauder's Map and sign it with our nicknames.
"The thought that still haunts me," said Lupin heavily, "is if I'd given the others the slip and bitten somebody. There were near misses, many of them. We laughed about them afterwards. We were young, thoughtless - carried away with our own cleverness.
"I sometimes felt guilty about betraying Dumbledore's trust, of course. He had admitted me to Hogwarts when no other headmaster would have done so, and he had no idea I was breaking the rules he had set down for my own and others' safety. He never knew I had led three fellow students into becoming Animagi illegally, but I always managed to forget my guilty feelings every time we sat down to plan our next month's adventure."
"What sort of animal did my dad turn into?" Harry asked, trying to change the subject. He was uncomfortable with Lupin's plain-spoken guilt.
"James was the most magnificent stag you ever saw," Sirius interjected. "Hence, Prongs. There's not a hunter out there who wouldn't love your dad's rack on his wall."
"A stag, a dog, a rat, and a wolf?"
"We were quite the gang," Lupin said. "We thought nothing could break us. Nothing should have."
A silence fell over the room, the two Marauders living in the past. Harry didn't want these men to eat themselves up inside with guilt. They'd made mistakes, he knew, but what mattered to him was that they were here now when he needed them. Together they had avenged the betrayal. Now it was time to come together and move forward.
Harry felt it was as good a time as any to ask a question that had been on his mind.
"Do I have a godmother?"
Sirius shook his head. "Lily had been planning on asking her best friend, Samantha, but she was killed shortly after we all finished school. Lily said she couldn't imagine anyone else, so there's only me."
"It's more than good enough," Harry said quickly. "I was just wondering."
"No harm in a question, Harry."
That conversation went nowhere, and Harry could only endure the silence for a few more moments before he said, "Professor Lupin?" He hadn't needed to use the man's name all day, but if he let it go much longer, it was liable to be even more awkward.
"I'm not your professor any longer, Harry, and there is no need for you to address me as such."
"That's what I meant to talk about, sir. What should I call you now? Is it Lupin or Remus or Moony or something else?"
Lupin smiled kindly at him. "You may call me whatever you feel most comfortable, Harry, but my preference is for Moony, with Remus being acceptable in public."
"It's going to take some getting used to."
Remus shrugged. "Then it takes some getting used to. We've got lots of time. What, in turn, should I call you? Will it be Harry, or have you got a secret name of your own?"
Lord Potter , he thought for a split second before shaking his head. "No, Harry is fine."