We Three, Kings
Author: Esinde Nayrall
Archiving: All FQF will be archived solely at this site until September 30th, 2004. At that point, the author may post the fic elsewhere or may be contacted to have this fic archived at different sites if they so choose.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. I do not own Harry Potter, its characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to.
Challenge & Summary: New Moon #14 – Can Remus find a way to bring Sirius back from the veil? Three men. Three Christmases. Three dark spells.
Author Notes: Thanks to the fabulous beta-ing by allisonblair and rynne, without who(m?) this story would have been grammatically incorrect and more than a little AU. Any residual errors are my own.
Christmas Holidays, 1996-97
“…the children back to the school, and the rest of us made our own way back to Grimmauld Place after the Aurors took away the Death Eaters we’d managed to subdue. If it hadn’t been for the children… Sirius and I were well practised at duelling together. I always protected his back and he was the only person I would allow to stand behind me in a fight. If I hadn’t been so intent on putting myself between Lucius Malfoy and Neville and Harry, I’d never have left Sirius to stand in front of the Veil.”
If Lupin has just admitted that his carelessness led to Sirius’ death, he doesn’t seem particularly bothered it. Certainly, there are others to blame – Sirius himself, for one – but the half-blood’s flippancy bothers him. Sirius is not a toy for you to retrieve as and when you choose. Perhaps Lupin has resigned himself to the idea of Sirius being gone, so that if they fail tonight – and everything rests so critically on the first potion ingredient that it is entirely possible they will fail tonight – he won’t be overwhelmed by disappointment.
“Lucius Malfoy has much to answer for, and there is surely no better place for him than Azkaban. But Sirius didn’t fall through the Veil because of him,” he says pointedly. Lupin appears not to understand that it is with him that he is angry. “What happens to him if we bring him back? This is a lot of trouble to go to, if you’re simply going to lock him up again, and only let him out when you have time for him.”
Lupin’s smile falters for an instant, but it isn’t long before the false courtesy returns. “You almost sound as though you care about him.”
He clenches his jaw underneath his outwardly civil expression – Lupin isn’t the only one who can remain polite in the face of provocation. Forcing himself to smile, he replies, “You didn’t answer my question.”
“He won’t be locked up again – ever, if I have my strength. Most of his plans didn’t go beyond getting out of this house, clearing his name, killing Pettigrew, being able to look after his godson properly... But he’d made them. Told me I was part of them…”
And where was I, in all of those plans, he wants to scream, but he slaps the impulse down. He is not a child anymore, and he threw away any claim he had to Sirius decades ago. None of this is about me anymore. I am merely useful now.
Lupin sighs, and the polite expression is replaced by a troubled frown.
“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful to you. I couldn’t have done this without your help. It was such cruel timing, all around. If Fudge had arrived just a little earlier, he would have seen Sirius fighting on our side, and his name could have been cleared. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Sirius was the only real Healer we’d had, and when there were finally people who needed his help, he was no longer there to help them. So there was no point hurrying to Grimmauld Place – we had to stop at St. Mungo’s first. Coming back from there, we couldn’t get back into Grimmauld Place. Moody thought it was another trap, but he’d hit his head pretty hard and I don’t know if he really believed it. It wasn’t just that we couldn’t get in – the house simply wasn’t there. It was eerie, walking up the street, coming to the space between the two other houses and finding nothing.”
Lupin looks down at his hands – it was a nervous gesture of Sirius’, usually when his hands were shaking involuntarily, and he was glaring at them to stop. If we cannot bring him back, Lupin, will part of you become him? Another memory – he can’t remember where he knows it from – of Sirius glaring at his hands, trying to stop them shaking. When that didn’t work, he put his face behind them, hiding his shame from the world.
“Eventually, they decided it must have been Kreacher’s work. That he wasn’t willing to let us in after Dumbledore questioned him, and after Sirius died, he didn’t owe the rest of us anything. It wasn’t Kreacher, though. Even though I could no longer see where Number Twelve was, I knew why we couldn’t get back in, and it wasn’t because of Kreacher. House elves aren’t that powerful. I should thank you now, before I forget – if this works, I will forget – for helping me get back inside. And for your assistance with the potion.”
He can understand why Lupin came to him, rather than to the members of that useless Order. Spells that require knowledge of powerful Dark Magic come relatively easily to him. He is still surprised that Lupin is willing to use them, however – the Lupin he remembers from his school days was an idealistic, self-righteous bore, as most Gryffindors were.
For himself, he isn’t particularly eager to see Sirius again, and never had any intention of returning to Grimmauld Place. But the alternative is Lupin’s threat – that if he doesn’t assist, certain things he wishes to keep concealed about himself will be revealed. He has agreed partly in exchange for the other man’s silence. More than the threat however, it was the taunting smile, the doubting expression, the hinted but unspoken sentiment of; Sirius could have done this. You were never a quarter the man he was.
“There’s no need to thank me. I imagine I’d do much the same, in your position.” Even as he says it, he hopes fervently that he’ll never find himself in such a position. Settling against the wall behind him, he turns the little bundle he is carrying over and over in his hands.
Hearing of Sirius’ disappearance upset him more than he is willing to admit, and he acknowledges that part of the reason he is here is to get his old rival back. They competed for everything when younger, and part of his reason for helping the half-blood tonight is to win in this contest neither he nor Sirius ever formally acknowledged. To put himself so far ahead that Sirius, named after one of the brightest stars in the sky, will never outshine him again. The water inside the cauldron – liquid, really, as there are far more sinister things than water there – starts to seethe, and he stands, seeing Lupin do the same on the other side.
He thought he won nearly twenty years ago now, when Sirius betrayed them all. Surely when the other man – boy, he’d been at the time – was disgraced and effectively removed forever, he won conclusively? Afterwards, after Sirius was taken to Azkaban, he doubted Sirius’ guilt when so many others believed. But speaking up would have put him in Azkaban, too. Another reason for his being here tonight is a self-imposed penance, in payment for not speaking out fifteen years earlier.
Other memories of Sirius go back to when they still loved one another, were closer than most brothers. The first letter he received by owl, the first letter addressed to him alone, was from Sirius. But Lupin isn’t interested in hearing his own memories of Sirius, and is already starting to speak again.
“I imagine you would, too. I’m sure Sirius would have. More for the challenge, than for anything else. I always thought you and Sirius had more in common than either of you were prepared to admit.” That is certainly true – both the similarities, and the reluctance to acknowledge them. He realises he is twisting the bundle and its contents between his fingers when the cloth starts to protest. “You must be tired of hearing about it, though.”
That, however, is not true. He never tires of hearing it – it is the highest praise anyone has ever been able to give him. And he has never lacked for praise. It shocks him how much hearing these words moves him now, when he thought he’d never be compared to Sirius again.
Yet he stole and then kept that mirror – the small, book sized mirror – which allowed him to speak with whoever held one of the other three, and they to speak with him. All of Sirius’ friends – and Sirius himself – carried one, and they were clearly recognisable as belonging to a set of four, and to that group of Gryffindors. He’d stolen it from one of his fellow Death Eaters – not knowing at the time whether it was Pettigrew or Lupin who’d betrayed Potter. He’d stolen it for no other reason than to be closer to Sirius. Seemed pointless until recently – it wasn’t as though I ever used the thing to get in touch with him, or he ever knew I had it to get in touch with me.
He only ever saw the mirror alert him once. It was after Sirius vanished into the Veil, but he responded to it because he hoped so desperately that it would be Sirius, trying to contact him at last. Whoever it was dropped their mirror with a shocked gasp, and all he saw was a glimpse of untied trainers, really awful socks, and a faraway owl cage, before he found the presence of mind to break the connection.
Nearly a week later, the mirror – which had constantly tried to alert him, and which he in turn had constantly ignored – flew into his hands by itself, and an hour later, Remus Lupin was threatening to hammer down the door of his flat.
“I never tired of it.” I loved him. “I stole Pettigrew’s mirror to be closer to Sirius. Broke through the binding charms on it and attuned it to me. I was so close to finishing what I’d joined the Death Eaters to do, and wanted a way to get into contact with him. I never got that chance.” This strikes at the heart of something else that has bothered him for a while. “I ignored the mirror after it tried to alert me. How were you able to make it bring itself into my hands so that you could track me down?”
“The mirrors alert you if any part of your name – first, middle or last – is called into one of the others. Only three remain now – Sirius gave his to Harry and took mine for himself. I didn’t know that Peter’s was with you. James’ mirror was destroyed along with most of Godric’s Hollow. Harry destroyed the one Sirius gave him, too, but fixed it to try and get in touch with Sirius again. I’d forgotten about the mirrors completely, until Sirius uncovered them last year.”
Lupin smiles slightly, and reaches a hand out for the bundle.
“It was James that altered the charms on the mirrors once we left school, so that they would relocate themselves into the hands of their owner if that person’s full name was spoken. It was supposed to be used in case one of us was hurt, or unable to respond to the mirror, and the rest of us would be able to track them.”
Lupin unwraps the canvas bundle and takes out the fragments nestled inside it. With his other hand, he shakes the kinks out of the cloth, and the portrait painted onto the canvas blinks at the sudden light.
“So you knew all of my name.”
Yes, Sirius told me once.” Lupin is staring at the painting on the canvas, stroking a finger gently over the dark-haired figure smiling back at him. “This is all I have of him. The last link. If this fails…”
“It won’t fail.” He is trying to convince himself. “It’s a very powerful, dark spell. It’s worked with a far weaker soul specimen.” Everything depends on the portrait. Everything depends on a portrait of a seven-year-old boy, altered, with Dark Magic using Sirius’ own blood, into a painting of the thirty-four-year-old man who fell through the Veil. Everything depends on the faint pieces of soul that bring the painted Sirius to life being strong enough to wrench the rest of Sirius’ spirit from wherever it has vanished to.
“How do you - ”
“Sirius told you my middle name. What else did he tell you about me?” Lupin looks at him blankly. He can just imagine all of the things that Sirius has told the other man about him. Things the other man is too polite to mention. “Did he tell you how he believed I died?”
“You joined the Death Eaters. They killed you. I believed him until I saw your face in Harry’s mirror.”
“He told you the truth. Five years after he was taken to Azkaban, when Mother realised that she would never be able to free him, that she would be the last of the Blacks, she gambled everything and performed this spell to restore me to her.”
The tension in Lupin’s face – tension he thought was as much a part of the man as his silvering hair, and shabby clothing – vanishes, and his expression suffuses with something he’s never seen this Gryffindor wear before. Hope.
Something in the sound the cauldron is making alters subtly. Lupin holds both hands over the seething cauldron. From where he stands, it looks almost as though the fire on which the cauldron is balanced is burning through the cauldron and the potion in it, sending its sparks into the vapour rising from the liquid’s surface. The thick, cloudy steam rising from the liquid blocks his view of the other man.
“That was why I asked you what you intended to do with him, if we succeed tonight. Because the plans my mother had when she restored me weren’t any plans of mine. After I regained my strength, I fled the house. I was grateful to her for giving me life – not once, but twice – but I would never allow myself to be used by her again.”
“I read everything about the spell – Sirius and I both did, last year. We wanted to find some way to break whatever link Harry has with - ” Lupin suddenly appears to remember that he is talking to a former Death Eater, and changes the subject abruptly. “I need to know so much, so much that the books left out, so much that they don’t say… Does it… Will he feel any…”
“It won’t hurt him.” It’s not the full truth. As long as Sirius felt no pain when his body and soul were separated, he should not be hurt when he is restored. “What you have planned for him, when he returns, could destroy him. So be certain before you do this thing.”
Lupin hesitates again, turning the bone fragments in his hand. “I doubted. For so many years. As little as a year ago now, I would have allowed his soul rest and not attempted to restore him. I would mourn of course, as I have. But I would have let him be. Now, however… This last year he convinced me. For the first time since he returned from Azkaban, I knew I was loved. I can’t say whether he believed me or not, but I loved him as well.”
The liquid’s surface looks almost solid now, a hard, dazzling, glittering, diamond-like layer forming on the top, pulsing with its own light.
“He would want to come back.” Lupin’s voice drops to a whisper, a fervent prayer. “I know it.”
He meets Lupin’s gaze, and nods. The other man drops the painting into the cauldron, flinching as it sinks. A heartbeat later, the fragments in his other hand join it.
He has studied the Dark Arts extensively, Lupin has studied the Defence Against the Dark Arts extensively, and yet the two of them drew straws as to which of them would enter the Black family crypts to retrieve bone fragments from Antares Black’s tomb. Father was not much older than Sirius when he was murdered.
Lupin is whispering the incantation under his breath. Instantly, the potion’s colour turns dark blue, and the hard, glittering surface breaks, the liquid roiling again. The corners of Lupin’s mouth lift into a cautious smile. “The spell has caught,” he confirms, softly.
Regulus Black lets out a breath he has only just realised he’s been holding.
Christmas Holidays, 1995-96
“Where is everyone else, anyway?” He can still smell breakfast in the air, toast and tea and eggs and bacon, and his stomach makes an angry, hungry sound, even though it’s barely an hour since it was last fed.
“Sleeping. It was pretty hectic last night. No one knew what was going on, and nobody wanted to be asleep when news arrived.”
“I heard about what happened from Minerva. So Harry saw the attack through a snake’s eyes?”
“It must just be the blood connection between Harry and Voldemort. That’s the only thing that’s changed.”
“Harry was having these visions even before the blood connection was made. And quite a bit has changed - Voldemort’s powers have returned, for one.”
Sirius ignores him, or perhaps doesn’t hear him. “He can’t even be aware of the link.” He isn’t sure whether Sirius means Voldemort or Harry, and asks him to clarify. “Voldemort, Remus. We can take it for granted that Harry doesn’t know about it. Perhaps you should say something to him.”
He looks up in surprise, wishing Sirius would stop pacing incessantly. “Me? He never speaks to me, Sirius. You’re the one he trusts.”
“But you’re better at this sort of thing than I am, Remus. Harry seems to think Voldemort’s possessed him, and I can’t tell him why he shouldn’t be afraid without telling him everything I shouldn’t.” Sirius glares at the pantry for some unfathomable reason. “He’s so scared, he thinks he’s the one who’s done this to Arthur Weasley, and I can’t say anything because Dumbledore advises against it.”
“We have to let ourselves be guided by Dumbledore in this, Sirius.” He’s said the words a thousand times. He doesn’t believe them himself, not entirely, but he will say them a thousand times more, if they bring his lover peace. “Neither of us know as much about Voldemort as the Headmaster, and we can’t take chances with whatever connection he has with Harry.”
Sirius is lost to him again, swept up in his own world. This is nothing new – Sirius with a problem he can’t solve has always been impossible to live with.
“All I could do was tell him to stop worrying, and then I had to make myself leave. I hated it when people said that to me, promised myself I would never be so patronising, and now I can’t answer my own godson’s questions. Have to leave it at ordering him to stop worrying, because I can’t trust myself not to tell him everything.”
Remus sighs, hating this. Hating that something is bothering Sirius and that there is nothing he can do about it. He reaches a hand out to Sirius, and Sirius looks at it for a moment before he lets Remus pull him into his lap and rests his head on Remus’ shoulder.
Why do you look so surprised? Remus thinks wearily. Are you here, in my lap, because you want to be, or because it’s what we’ve always done, or because you can’t have anybody else? To be fair, Sirius was probably thinking about the likelihood of them being caught sitting like this, but it hurts every time Sirius hesitates before coming to him. As Sirius settles into his lap, his nose discerns another smell he has started to associate with Sirius. This smell, of stale alcohol that completely overpowers the scent of breakfast and – more importantly – of his lover, is less pleasing.
“Have you been drinking again?”
Sirius does not quite glance at the considerable dent in the firewhisky stores that appears to have materialised in the week and a half he’s been away. “Would you believe me if I said ‘no’?”
He tries not to let his displeasure show on his face, but he hates the taste of the stuff in Sirius’ mouth. “Sirius…”
“Let it be, Remus,” Sirius says impatiently. He lets the subject drop. He doesn’t want another argument. Not when he’s been away for so long. Changing the topic of conversation back to his original concern, Sirius says, “I asked Harry if he’d told Dumbledore, and he told me he had. Why would he still be so upset? What if Dumbledore didn’t say anything to him? He never told us why Voldemort went after Harry the first time.”
Lowering his voice further, even though everyone else in the house has gone up to bed, Sirius adds, “I thought Voldemort wanted to destroy the Potter line, and all of the defences James and I planned were structured around that. Why didn’t Dumbledore tell us it was only Harry that Voldemort was after? He knew about the prophecy – if it was only Harry who was in danger, Lily and James needn’t have died. Babies all look the same at that age – we could have hidden him in a hundred different places.”
When Sirius ran away from this house at the age of sixteen, he turned his back on many of the ideals and values of his pure-blood family, but his upbringing still dominated the way he thought, and what he considered important. Even five years after he left, blood was what mattered. He wasn’t the only one – James also thought along similar lines, and together, they convinced Lily and Remus that it was the Potter bloodline that Voldemort was trying to eliminate. After all, the Death Eaters had just gone after James’ parents the week before.
In 1981, within days of that awful October night, when Remus heard talk about The Boy Who Lived and of Lily’s sacrifice, it strengthened that belief. She wasn’t of James’ blood. Voldemort had not been after her. She shouldn’t have died.
Right now, Remus doesn’t want to think about what they didn’t know then. Stroking Sirius’ dark hair, Remus says, “Harry will be safe at Hogwarts. No one can reach him there. All we have to do is find a way around the connection. Dumbledore is probably already thinking of a way.”
“Harry’s only fifteen, Remus. They’re hurting him, and we can’t do anything to stop it.”
“We know the link was made through dark blood magic. Your family must have had hundreds of books on the subject. We can find something to help him, if Dumbledore hasn’t thought of something already. Hermione is probably already turning the Hogwarts library upside down.” He feels Sirius’ lips against his throat, curving into a smile. “The link with Voldemort. Did Harry tell you how it happened?”
“I thought you knew,” Sirius says tiredly. “You said you’d had an owl from Dumbledore before I arrived. I didn’t want to talk about it if you already knew.”
“I didn’t know.” He has to be careful not to link this back to Sirius’ earlier comment about Dumbledore not telling any of them anything. “His owl told me Voldemort had risen again, that you were going to alert the Order, and was it all right if you could stay with me.” How am I supposed to rally the Order, Sirius asked furiously when he arrived, when most of them still think I belong in Azkaban? In the preoccupation of dealing with that dilemma, as well as the one of moving into the new headquarters, there was never really time for a discussion of what happened after the Tournament.
“There’s a spell. Potion, really. Dark Magic. Wormtail brewed it. It needs bones, flesh and blood. When Harry’s blood was used it formed a link between him and Voldemort – Harry no longer has the protection of Lily’s sacrifice.”
Remus starts stroking Sirius’ hair again, while he tries to think of a solution. It is Sirius who speaks first, though. “If it’s linked to Lily’s protection, we should be able to do something. The charm she used came from one of Mother’s spell books on blood magic.”
It wasn’t your fault she died. Or James, either. I won’t have you think that. He has tightened his grip around Sirius, because the other man sits up to look at him, saying, “James found the book at our place. I didn’t realise I’d taken it with me when I left home.”
“Sirius, if it protected her son, do you think Lily would have cared whether or not it was Dark Magic?” Your mother was like that too, he wants to say, but now is probably not the time, and this house is certainly not the place.
“Lily had to die for the charm to work. She must have known - ”
“The book will still be in our flat, then,” he says, unwilling to discuss the past, especially when there is much that they can do now. “That will give us a starting point, and from then on… well. I’m sure we’ll find something.”
“I wish I could…”
“You can’t come to the flat.” Aside from it not being safe for Sirius to be seen in public since he was recognised at King’s Cross, the only thing that keeps Grimmauld Place from turning on them and swallowing them is Sirius remembering his Black heritage, that he is a Black and still tied to the house in subtle ways. Most importantly of all, it is necessary for Sirius to believe that this is his home.
The mental drain of it almost destroyed Sirius when they first started to make the place habitable. If the protection spells on the house weren’t so strong, or if the Order had any alternatives available to it, he knew he’d consider taking Sirius with him. Just for a little while...
“I wish I could go with you. I know I can’t.” The admission obviously hurts Sirius, but he needs those words, even if they are only words, I wish I could go with you, because Sirius can give him nothing else apart from his company, and he can never be sure whether it is offered because Sirius loves him, because of what they once were together before Azkaban, or because Sirius has nothing better to do.
It is the words he craves, because they are spoken so rarely.
“It won’t take me long. I can Apparate there and back. It’ll only take me a few hours to find the book, and anything we have on soul magic. You and I can work on the solution together. You’ll be able to help Harry, and you won’t have to put yourself in danger to do it.”
That finally raises a genuine smile on his lover’s face. “You think of everything, Remus.”
“Not everything, Sirius. I think of you. Always.” Sirius looks for a moment as though he is going to kiss him, but Remus forestalls him and nudges the other man gently out of his lap so he can stand. “Did you sleep at all, last night?”
“Not really. Didn’t want to chance Fred or George leaving and trying to see what was wrong with Arthur. I hated having to do it. If it’d been me…” He hopes Sirius isn’t thinking back to the beginning of their sixth year at Hogwarts, when Antares Black was murdered and Sirius and his younger brother were ordered home from school before the Christmas holidays started.
“I had a long night, and could do with some rest.” The only way he’ll be able to convince Sirius to take rest is to pretend he needs some himself. “Perhaps we could take a nap.”
“I thought you said you’d go back to the flat.”
“I’ll go this afternoon.”
Sirius looks as though he is debating whether or not to drag him to the front hall and bodily fling him through the door. “All right. I won’t be able to think straight when I’m this tired. Harry’s safe as long as he’s in this house, anyway.” Sirius drags one hand over his face, as though he can rub his tiredness away. If only it were so easy. Looking at him again, Sirius smiles, saying, “When you said that we could take a nap…”
“I meant that you could go to your room, I could go to mine, we could lock them both from the inside and then I could Apparate into your bed and sit on you until you fall asleep.”
At last, the other man laughs. “Come on, then.”
Christmas Holidays, 1976-77
Such powerful magic, to hide the carriage, the thestrals, and the two of them from the sight of the crowds milling in the streets of London, and Mother does it without a second thought. What it must be like to have that kind of power. Having that kind of power didn’t keep Father alive.
It is nearly half past five on a Thursday afternoon, and for some reason that means that there are more Muggle carriages on the streets than normal. Automobiles, Remus calls them, the name suggesting that they make themselves go. He can attest to that now – a week ago, he wouldn’t have been able to see the thestrals he knows are pulling the carriage he is in, either.
Ignoring the other traffic, their carriage plunges through the streets and in between the automobiles smoothly, without jostling its passengers. He can’t blame the carriage, or the ride – his hands are shaking because he is frightened.
Mother is peering coolly through the carriage curtains, at the Muggles on the road. “I am so tired of having to hide from them,” she says softly. “All my life… If they fear our power so much, why should we be the ones to hide ourselves from them?”
This is an old complaint of hers. “Is that why you supported Voldemort?” Voldemort, the newest force in the world of pure-blood politics, strongly advocates ‘destroying the links between Muggles and Wizards’, which is a euphemistic way of saying that all Muggleborns and half-bloods should be destroyed.
“Voldemort agreed with us, Sirius.” He smiles inwardly at her ire. “The House of Black has advocated the segregation of Muggle and Wizarding folk for generations. Long before this newcomer arose.” She sniffs delicately, and pulls the curtains shut. “Voldemort is no pure-blood name I ever heard,” she murmurs, half under her breath.
“Why did you support him then?”
“Because he was right.”
“Was?” For a moment, he is hopeful…
…until she turns from the curtains, fixes him with an unflinching stare and says, “He is right. About many things.”
He shifts against the velvet seat, and places his hands under his thighs to stop them shaking. Is he right in thinking that agreeing with him means you have to follow him? He knows better than to say the words out loud, though.
“You did well today, Sirius,” she says absently.
“Thank you, Mother.”
“Look at me, puppy.” He does, wishing that she’d stop calling him by his baby name. At least she doesn’t do it where others can hear – that would shame her nearly as much as it would shame him. “I didn’t say the words just for the sake of saying them. I think we almost managed to convince Jasmine Rookwood, if not her brothers, too. Next time, we’ll have to spend more time circulating, so we can see how many people have joined or left our faction, but today I thought it would be best to bring you home as soon as possible. You had started to look distressed, and we can’t show weakness in front of the rest of the Council.”
Distressed is one way of putting it.
Father was horribly wounded last week under the Dark Mark, and he and Regulus were called home before the Christmas holidays began. He was sitting by Father’s bedside with Mother – Regulus had been asleep – when Father finally died. Within the hour, Mother insisted he start fulfilling his duties as the Black heir sooner rather than later – she probably doesn’t think she’ll outlive Father long – and one of the first of those was attending these meetings, as Father had.
Filthy Dark Mark. The skull and serpent is the symbol chosen by and associated with Voldemort and those who follow him in secret. Lucius Malfoy and Morgan Wilkes were the ones to invite themselves around to Grimmauld Place for tea during the summer holidays. They suggested that rather than simply ‘supporting’ Voldemort by agreeing with his policies, his parents should do as Malfoy and Wilkes themselves had – swear fealty to Lord Voldemort. Admirable goals, Father had said of Voldemort’s agenda, and I agree that it is better for Wizarding and Muggle communities to remain separate, but we’ve followed that dictum for centuries, and we’ve done it quite well. We don’t need him to lead our campaign.
Out loud, he says, “That’s high praise. Next time, I’ll try to maintain my composure.”
The request for fealty – to become Voldemort’s servants – was met with severe displeasure from both Mother and Father. He should be grateful, he supposes, that it at least caused them to turn their noses up to Voldemort’s campaign. Even if it was only after it became clear that Voldemort was prepared to threaten the nobility and prestige of the older pure-blood families to consolidate his power over all wizards – the Blacks, the Notts, the Crouches, the Bones, and the Prewetts. Apart from anything else it still rankles, being asked to join, when nobody in his family ever started anything without the full intention of leading it from beginning to end. It wouldn’t be so difficult if the House of Black’s views weren’t exactly the same as Voldemort’s.
“I know you think I’m asking a lot of you, puppy. I never intended for you to be tested so young.”
Not all of the pure-blood dissenters have the same dark reputation as his family, but the House of Black is just as determined not to have anything to do with this new threat as the rest of them. Personally, he thinks it has more to do with an inborn – inbred, James would have laughed – reluctance to relinquish their power and prestige to anyone else. Especially to someone who styles himself ‘Lord’. When he asked his parents what the title meant, Mother scoffed and said it was a title bestowed upon those whose duty it was to care for the Muggles on their land.
Two of the Bones were the first to die, murdered before the summer. Mother, Father, Regulus and himself all visited Amelia, the new Mistress of the House of Bones, during the summer to offer their condolences, and – at least for Mother and Father – to ascertain whether or not Amelia intended to run for Minister of Magic. The incumbent is yet to succumb to ill health, but they all believe it is only a matter of months before the Council of Seers meets in formal session to appoint the next Minister of Magic.
“Should Regulus start coming with us, too?”
Since the attacks on pure-blood families began, the Council of Seers has met more in the last few months than in the five years preceding them. Not formal Councils – formal Council will not be called until the current Minister dies – but they can meet in threes and fours for tedious talks over tea, gritting their teeth into false smiles and paying ‘social calls’ on one another before the vote trading begins. The meetings are unbearable. ‘Who will be the next Minister for Magic?’ ‘What will you give me if I support your cause?’ It makes his head hurt. They are returning from the fourth meeting of the day, and Mother is expecting to host at least one more at home, later in the afternoon.
Everything would be simpler if Voldemort’s supporters came out into the open. But they hide behind masks, no one is sure how many Councillors are also Death Eaters, and then there is the complicating matter of memory charms and the Imperius curse. And where those fail, Voldemort’s supporters aren’t shy of using the other Unforgivables. The visit from Malfoy and Wilkes wasn’t an invitation. Mother should have realised that Malfoy and Wilkes would never have made the offer as boldly as they had if they’d thought for a moment it might be rebuffed. It was a warning.
Mother spoke her intentions freely to Morgan Wilkes, telling him that his Lord would find no followers in the House of Black. They took such a risk, coming into the open to solicit Mother and Father’s support… Malfoy and Wilkes smiled politely, gathered their cloaks and gloves, and left. Three months later, the Dark Mark went up over London, and Father was found dying without a wound on him.
Now, he and Mother are returning from an informal Council meeting at the Rookwoods’ home, trying to ensure their own alliances are holding together before they can think about forging new ones.
“He should, but he’s only twelve. It’s bad enough I’ve had to force you into this before you’re of age.”
Cassiopeia Black is not the type to give in without a fight, and this is where she needs Sirius. The House of Black has always led our faction – we follow nobody. I’m not letting some newcomer remove us from our rightful place. We will mourn Antares in private, but in front of these cowards, you will play the role he did at these councils – speak with me, mingle and consolidate our allies, and eventually help me to advise the Ministry. I know you’re still in school, but you will have to find time for all of these things as well.
He’s not convinced of the wisdom of this. If our policy of keeping Muggles and Wizards separate wasn’t so similar to Voldemort’s, we might win more support. It makes sense to him – how will they win more support for their faction in the Council of Seers if they don’t give the other Councillors a choice between the House of Black and Voldemort? If they stay as they are, they can only watch as their faction divides and splinters with them on one side, and Malfoy, Wilkes, and Voldemort on the other.
He made the argument to his parents, and both of them said it was clever, but unworkable. He can hear Father’s voice in his head, even now. Changing our position in response to a threat is out of the question. It will make us look weak. It will make us look unpredictable. It will make us look uncertain. Nobody who appears to be any of those three things is likely to attract the support or confidence of anybody else.
And now Mother wants him to take Father’s place in Council. As if doing it is as easy as merely saying the words. What chance does he have of convincing the other Councillors when he hasn’t managed to convince himself? Why can’t Mother see that it is better to challenge Voldemort by opposing what he stands for than by trying to take his supports for ourselves by guile? Especially since it is so difficult to know for certain who his supporters are. Every time he makes the suggestion, she dismisses him, tells him to be quiet or changes the subject.
I loved Father, but what did he die for? Defending the pre-eminence of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black?
“We’ll be home soon, puppy.” Mother flicks the curtains apart and glances out of the window, before turning back to him. “You’re wondering why they went after Antares.”
She still picks up some of his stray thoughts, especially when he is tried or upset. At least she can’t read his mind wholly. At least he can still conceal what truly matters.
“They thought that because Antares was older than me, the wards at the house would be keyed to him. They forgot, or never bothered to find out, that even though we were both Blacks before we wed, I was from the ruling line, not Antares. The wards were spelled to me once my mother died. If they’d been keyed to your father, we wouldn’t have a home to go back to. That’s why they’ll come after me next.”
He looks up in shock, as the carriage comes to rest outside their house. Jumping out, he turns and lends Mother his arm.
“It’s all right, puppy. You and Regulus will be cared for. I’ll show both of you how the wards are attuned, before I die. And while I still have strength to fight, it’s not likely to be any time soon.”
“This is all the more reason why you should let me study at the Auror Academy. It would be my job to go after people like this.”
All four of them – Peter, James, Remus, and he – want to enrol in the Auror Academy after school. For Remus however, it will be impossible – simply sitting the entrance exam can expose him as a werewolf. Remus laughed about it though, and said he could still come to the Ministry with them after school – Sirius and James to enrol in the Academy, and Remus to register himself as a dark creature. And that made them all laugh, until one of the Aurors who came to the school to give them Careers Advice took Sirius aside privately and told him not to bother. That the Aurors would never accept a recruit from a family with the reputation the Blacks had. It made him so angry, he was barely able to concentrate on his OWLs.
“You can do more at home, Sirius, and I need you to fulfil your duty. You’re younger and less intimidating than Antares was, so the rest of the Council of Seers are more likely to let their guard down around you and let things slip. We’ll have to eventually decide on our choice of candidate, but I can tell you now that it will be such a close fight between Amelia and Barty that if we wait until most of the dust has settled, whichever side we lend our support to will succeed. And the winner will remember his or her courtesies, show their gratitude, and admit you into the Academy.”
“You don’t have to smooth the way for me.” She doesn’t look convinced, just looks at him from inside the wrap of her shawl, waiting for him to continue. He is on dangerous ground now – attempting to manipulate her rarely works, and she’ll be extremely displeased if she manages to see through the attempt – but if he can make her believe that he is only trying to get into the Academy out of spite, he might be able to get her permission, and even her blessing. “The only thing is, you’d need to release me from coming to meetings with you. A lot of our political agenda isn’t viewed sympathetically by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and I was told I wouldn’t get very far with my application to the Academy, regardless of my marks - ”
Her face pales with rage, and her grip on his arm tightens. “Let me guess what they said to you,” she hisses. “They said that your application would be laughed out because it would be unacceptable to have a wizard in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement who came from a family so steeped in Dark Magic? But they want you to conveniently forget that at the same time, they need our support if they want to permit Aurors to use Unforgivables when capturing suspects.”
She tightens the black shawl around her shoulders, waiting for him to open the front door for her. “Come with me.” He follows her through the house, to the study. “There are things I need to teach you, and you won’t have time to learn them if you’re studying to be an Auror. Open that door.” As she speaks, a door materialises, next to the entrance to the study. He is sure it is the first time he is seeing it.
Inside are hundreds of little bottles, shimmering in the half-light, filled with dark liquid. “This is the heart of our defences. This is where the wards to Grimmauld Place are attuned. Every Black that was ever born in this house, born to the name ‘Black’ rather than marrying it, is represented in this room. Come inside.” She steps into the room – it isn’t much larger than the pantry in the main kitchen – and pulls him in after her. “The phials on the wall contain the blood of every single one of those Blacks.”
He manages to keep the shock off his face, and stares around him. The blood in the phials is still red, and looks liquid. It must be charmed. The phials themselves are arrayed in a similar pattern to the names on the family tree, expect there are fewer of them, and all of them are labelled with the house name ‘Black’.
“You see this, here? This is the ruling line. This is your blood, and Regulus’, here.” She points and his gaze follow her hand. “And next to them are my blood and your father’s. Leading up from me, you can see it’s joined to two phials, also? Black on both sides. Toujours pur. All the way to the first of us that came to England from France, bringing the blood and the motto.”
“This is what it takes to keep us safe, Sirius. All of this. The keys to our defences are here. This is what I need to teach you, for you to inherit this house, and manage it. And because it is considered to be Dark Magic, and because you can’t practise it while you are still in school, it will need to wait until you finish school and can return to me. You can be an Auror later, puppy.”
As though it is a hobby. It’s not as though I’m asking you to be an Auror. But why won’t you let me?
“First, you have to learn this. I need you at meetings with me, every minute you’re not at school, because at the rate this difficulty with Voldemort is going, we’re going to see many key positions in the Ministry free up, and I want our people in them. I’d pull you out of school now, but you’ve less than two years to go.” She smiles at him fondly, and ruffles his hair. “It would be a pity to remove you before you finish your NEWTs, after you got so many OWLs.”
“Could we at least change - ”
The fond smile vanishes instantly. “We are not changing our position on anything, either. It was untenable before your father’s death, and this close to his passing, it is absolutely out of the question. I will not see us weakened like that.”
He fights down frustration, and tries again. “I understand, but - I want to do something, to fight Voldemort.”
“You are fighting him, by helping me. It is out of the question, Sirius. Never ask me again.”
It isn’t the same, and he can never make her see. There is a difference between fighting Voldemort to protect yourself and your power, and fighting Voldemort to protect those without any power. Instead, he forces himself to smile, and gives in. “All right.”
“All right? Just like that?”
“Just like that. I won’t ask you again.” She looks pleased, but surprised. If she is running her fingers through his mind again, she will know that he is perfectly sincere. He has no intention of bringing the subject up again. Clearly, he will not be able to alter the culture of centuries of pure-blood thinking and political intrigue from within his family, as he once hoped. Don’t think about it. Not here. Not now.
“Thank you, puppy. I know I ask a lot of you.”
Removing one of the books from the stack under the phials, she walks into the study, and puts it down on his desk, on top of his Transfiguration textbook.
Turning back to him, she continues, “For now, I have Myrna Nott arriving to take tea – hopefully I can convince her to talk her husband into rethinking his allegiances – I think that fool fully intends to align with Avery. It’s not necessary for you to attend, so run along and get changed. Once Regulus wakes up, I’ll show both of you how the wards work, and how to strengthen them. Perhaps that will calm him down – I don’t know what else to do with him.”
It alarms him that the wards need to be strengthened further – after the visit from Malfoy and Wilkes, Father responded by putting almost every protective charm known to Wizarding-kind on the ancestral home. What more is there to do? At any rate, it will be at least another three hours before Regulus and himself are required to make an appearance in the study, then. Regulus will still be drowsy from the sedative Kreacher keeps feeding him – Mother isn’t sure how to manage his anger over Father’s death, and finds that the easiest way to deal with it is not to.
He starts to walk away, when she stops him with a barely audible “Sirius.”
“You really did do very well today, darling. Your father would have been proud of you too.” He dips his head slightly in acknowledgement and leaves the room.
Father would have been proud of me – for doing what? Allowing myself to become Mother’s tool? Or is this another way for her to prod me into doing what she wants? As soon as he reaches the long hallway leading to the nursery, his steps quicken until he is running. This thought has played through his mind off and on for months, and it is only now that he is out of Mother’s presence that he can allow it room in his brain.
Let me be an Auror, or find someone else to vote with you in Council. The thought is strangely appealing, but he can just imagine the look on her face if he throws a tantrum like Regulus – who up until now was the model of an obedient, dutiful son. Throwing a tantrum and giving her an ultimatum won’t work – she’ll just drug me like she drugged Regulus and deal with me later. He can think of nothing he has, nothing he can offer her in return for her conceding to him, nothing he can use to bargain with, nothing except…
What if I left and then said, ‘Let me be an Auror, and I’ll come home again’? She might change her mind once she sees I’ll leave her if she treats me like this. She might, if she sees I mean it. And if she isn’t willing to negotiate... The idea terrifies him. If I can’t moderate our political stance, and change what the Blacks stand for, if I can’t be both a Black and an Auror ... I could stop being a Black...
Going back to the study, he sees that she has gone, and starts to put his schoolbooks into his satchel. Trunk is still at Hogwarts, broomstick is in the Gryffindor locker, I have my wand, money, a change of clothes, what else, what else…
He is just reaching for his Transfiguration text book, when… What was that noise? Is someone coming?
Fighting down panic, he sweeps everything off the desk and into his satchel with his wand. Swinging it over his shoulder, he pads back to the nursery as quietly as he can. Approaching the fireplace in the nursery, he pauses for a moment to listen for her or Kreacher’s movements over the sound of his pounding heart. Reaching for the floo powder, he flings it into the flames and whispers, “Headmaster Dumbledore’s Office, Hogwarts School.” Come on, answer, you have to be there.
“Mr Black? Is everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine, Headmaster. There’s been a slight change of plans at home. Could I return to school now, rather than at the end of the Christmas break?”
Dumbledore regards him for a while. Mother has warned him that the Headmaster can pull thoughts out of his head, just as she is sometimes able to. Whatever he sees in there must meet with his approval, because he concedes, “Certainly, my boy. Give me a moment, and I’ll send a Portkey through the floo. It will take you to the Gryffindor dormitory – I believe that Remus is the only one in your year still here for the holidays.”
The holidays have started already? Where has the time gone?
“If you are considering what I believe you are, Sirius – if you intend to leave your family – you will need to find someone to take you in for the summer. You won’t be able to stay at the school forever. Think carefully.”
He’s already given it more thought than he’s intended. If he gives it any more, he’ll lose his nerve and talk himself out of it. “I’m not leaving my family.” I won’t have to. She’ll change her mind. “Please, Headmaster.” He hates having to beg.
A Portkey in the shape of a wooden ruler is duly passed through the flames. Sirius takes it, realising as he does so that he hasn’t had a chance to say goodbye to anyone or anything before he leaves Grimmauld Place. He wonders if he will ever be able to see it again.
Christmas Holidays, 1996-97
“It has to be ‘willingly given’,” Lupin says. “Everything I read was clear on that.”
“I can assure you, even though they’ve been dead for decades, the flesh was ‘willingly given’ at the time.” Kreacher is raging in the corner, muttering at him furiously as he holds up the ear he severed from one of the house elf heads decorating the corridor. “Even Kreacher can’t wait until we do him, too. Isn’t that right, you disgusting, little toe-rag?” Still the elf refuses to leave them, and Regulus tires of his muttering and banishes him into the basement with a wave of his wand.
“What was the good of that? Won’t he just be able to Apparate himself out?”
“Sirius never told you about the Black family dungeon, did he?” Lupin is horrified. “Oh come on, Lupin, we weren’t all sweetness and light. I’ll let him out again if he asks me nicely – which he won’t.” He can rot there, for all of me. Flipping the withered ear into the cauldron turns the potion from blue into a brilliant red.
The potion behaving as it should appears to calm Lupin down, his voice holding no disgust as he says, “I knew you weren’t all ‘sweetness and light’, but a dungeon?”
“Dungeon. That’s right. It’s not a torture chamber, Lupin. Merlin’s name, in Hogwarts they house students in them. Don’t look so shocked.”
“And you wonder why everybody found it so easy to believe that you and Sirius were Death Eaters, and followers of Voldemort.”
“I never wasted a lot of time worrying about what other people thought. In my case, the people that mattered knew the truth. Pity the same couldn’t be said of Sirius’ so called friends.”
Lupin ignores the slap. “Then why does your mother’s portrait hate you nearly as much as it hates Sirius? Why isn’t Kreacher overjoyed to see you? Sirius was always telling me how you were the better son. That your mother was thrilled you’d joined the Death Eaters.”
That sounds like the old witch – divide and conquer. She never told me she considered me the better son. Always rhapsodising about how fabulous Sirius was, how clever… He finds it heartbreakingly amusing that the older brother he’s always aspired to be exactly like grew up with the same insecurity. The same sense that he would never be good enough.
“I joined the Death Eaters to avenge Father. It was the only way to get around the masks and the cloaks and the secret identities. Managed to kill three of the four cowards that had attacked him. Was well on the way to tracking the fourth when someone noticed a pattern in the deaths, and I was suspected. The fourth coward was the bait in a trap set up for me. I managed to kill her, and then the ones who’d lain in wait sprung the trap and killed me. Before that, I did everything Mother wanted after Sirius ran off and left her helpless. I was twelve when I started attending Council.”
He would have done anything for the House of Black, once. People tried to keep him quiet ever since the news of the attack on their Father reached Hogwarts. Two of his housemates sneeringly said Antares Black got what was coming to him, and his Head of House punished him for cursing them.
Then they got home, Mother tiredly greeted them, and he couldn’t stop roaring at her that he wanted Father to live, that she should fix him rather than make arrangements for his funeral. She lost all patience with him, and tricked him into swallowing his first dose of a powerful sedative to quell his rage. When he finally woke from the effects of the sedative Kreacher forced down his throat at regular intervals, he found that Father was dead, and Sirius was gone. But when Mother asked him – told him, really – to do his duty for the House of Black, he was eager to actually do something to burn off the horrible anger that consumed him.
“When Sirius left, he didn’t tell any of us. Mother thought he’d been kidnapped or worse. She’d keyed the blood wards directly to the eldest Black son, so that as long as he was alive and thought of Grimmauld Place as his home, the protection spells would keep us safe. She knew he hadn’t been killed, because the wards didn’t pass directly onto me, as they should have. We couldn’t find him, because the protection spells at Hogwarts blocked all Mother’s scrying instruments, and our Uncle Alphard taught him two powerful Untraceable spells to keep him safe outside of school. When we couldn’t trace him, Mother decided she wasn’t taking any chances with our safety. She also needed an heir who would attend her once formal Council was convened, and with Sirius gone, that was to become my task. He hadn’t been old enough to attend the informal meetings, but was permitted because he was her heir.
“For me to attend in his stead, she had to elevate my status to eldest son and heir – something we couldn’t do easily without knowing what had happened to Sirius. Sirius had also taken her book on blood magic with him when he left. At the time, I thought he’d done it to spite her, but now I’m not so sure – it was never really something that interested him. All Mother’s notes on the charms that attuned this house to us were in it, too. As it was, he left, depriving her of her firstborn and heir, as well as all of her protection spells, and when she ran out of options, I was the one that paid for it.”
He can still remember her panic clearly. Father dead for less than a week, and then her eldest vanished. She was frantic, he was scared and then she dosed him again. “When I was finally allowed to wake up, Mother brewed a potion that would age me. She didn’t tell me that, though – just held it under my nose and told me to drink it. I was suspicious, ever since I’d been tricked into drinking the sedative when I’d first got home, so I made her swear it wouldn’t put me to sleep or hurt me.” She wept, apologised, petted him, and promised, swore, that he wouldn’t be hurt. “She lied.” He tried to sip it a little at a time, but she forced his head back and tipped the goblet up.
“I only drank a bit, and I could feel myself growing and stretching. It was horrific. It felt like the wards were inscribing themselves on my bones. I was so angry, that I flung the rest of the potion at her.” It was the first and only time he was deliberately disobedient, before he passed out from the pain. “Aged her too. Almost crippled her. I thought she was going to die. Remember wishing she had.” She probably wished she had, too. After Father died, there was some talk of Mother remarrying, and no shortage of offers. After he flung that goblet at her, she never left the house again and relied on him entirely to do her bidding in Council. “I still couldn’t believe she’d done that to me, and then she told me why. Said that she needed me to replace not only Father, but Sirius as well. Said that we might never see him again.”
He passed out aged twelve, and then woke again aged seventeen. He was suddenly taller than she, his voice was deeper than it had been earlier that afternoon, and he couldn’t move properly for the first two months afterward. But when he thought they might never see Sirius again, when he thought that Sirius had been kidnapped, was being tortured somewhere, or had in some other way sacrificed himself for the House of Black, he told himself that he, Regulus, could afford this relatively small inconvenience. That it was the least he could do. Then when he saw his brother, alive and well over the holiday – I don’t want to think about that, I don’t feel that way anymore – he vowed to kill him himself.
Absently, he murmurs, “I don’t think she thought I was ever as clever as he was.”
“Few people were.”
“But I was the one the Sorting Hat placed in Ravenclaw,” he says, realising even as he does that he must sound just as petulant as he did when he was eleven, with that awful hat falling past his ears, and blinding him. It told him he valued knowledge and learning, even though it was only so that people would talk about things with him the way they spoke with Sirius – grown up and adult, at three years older than himself. It didn’t matter what he said, people always laughed at him, calling him ‘adorable’ or ‘sweet’ whenever he said anything, rather than talking to him properly.
“And I can tell you, it’s no fun when you know you’re cleverer than most people, but you’re close to someone who’s cleverer or better or more talented than you. And no one will ever see what you’re capable of, because you’re forever being outshone by your older brother.”
“I can’t say I’ve ever felt like that.”
“How fortunate for you. Perhaps if you had, you’d have sympathised with Pettigrew and realised what a liability he’d been all along. Pettigrew certainly wasn’t stupid, but anybody would have looked it, compared to Sirius or Potter.”
Lupin ignores the bait again, and changes the subject. “So that’s why your mother’s portrait hates you?”
“That, and she wasn’t pleased I became a Death Eater, and follower of Voldemort. Didn’t like the idea of actively going out and torturing or killing Muggles – not that I was either, there’s no need to look at me like that. In her case, it was because she saw it as a waste of magic – why waste your time baiting Muggles when you could spend it more profitably thinking of ways to make Morgan Wilkes weep? Anyway. In the same year Voldemort met his end, I met mine. I’m almost certain Bella had something to do with it. Barty certainly did – he kept a close eye on my comings and goings at school, even though we were in different Houses.
“I don’t know what Mother tried in the five years between when I died and when she restored me. I think she tried to get Sirius out of Azkaban. It was unlikely she’d have cared about random Muggles being blasted in the street when her son and heir and last hope of the continuation of the line was rotting in prison. Whatever happened, her efforts failed, and in the end, as I said, she gambled everything and worked her dark magic to restore me.”
You won’t fail me, she insisted, as he screamed his way back into the world, much as he had the first time he’d entered it, You’ll help me restore the good Black name, see the line flourish again. Regulus, my darling, my only, my baby cat. And that was when he realised that Sirius was right all along – their mother would only love them as long as they did as she wanted. As long as they furthered her ends. As long as they were her tools. He hates that memory. “And then I ran away.” Hates that his selfishness caused her to lose the will to live. “She died shortly afterwards.” Hates that it caused her to die.
But even ten years after the fact, he knows he will not change that decision, even if he can. He wonders if Sirius feels the same.
Christmas Holidays, 1995-96
The corridor reeks of blood. Full moon is still more than half a month away, but his senses of hearing, taste and smell are always stronger than those of a human’s, and right now, the scent is so powerful he is certain that if he extends his tongue, he can lick blood out of the air.
He is so dizzy under the assault of that savoury, metallic aroma – human blood, the best kind – that it takes him a while to realise that it is Sirius’. Sweet Jesus… Why, oh why, do people see fit to leave him alone in the house on his own? The first day they moved in, nearly every magical implement in the parlour hurled itself at them. There are traps all over the house, some of them specifically keyed to respond to Sirius’ touch.
Anything can happen to Sirius when he is alone, and still people leave him by himself.
He said he could always leave the trip to the flat until after Christmas, but Sirius urged him out of the house as soon as they awoke that afternoon. After all, the sooner he leaves, the sooner he’ll be back and the sooner Sirius will be able to contribute to the cause in some way that isn’t cleaning, cooking, or keeping the twins out of trouble. It doesn’t help that Sirius’ natural inclination is to let Fred and George get into whatever trouble it is they want – watching them explode things is entertaining, if nothing else, and hearing Molly shout at someone else for a change doesn’t hurt.
And he was unable to refuse Sirius’ request to find and bring the books back as soon as he could. The suggestion itself improved Sirius’ mood a hundred‑fold. Sirius was making noises about getting the house into shape for Christmas, now that there are so many other guests, as Remus left. Remus himself isn’t too thrilled at the idea of so many other people in the house – he hoped to have Sirius to himself for their anniversary. Not that he’s made any plans.
That’s if there’s anything of our relationship left that’s worth celebrating.
Molly and the children are probably visiting Arthur, leaving Sirius to do battle with the house alone. An entire corridor smells of his blood. There aren’t any marks, but Sirius was either bleeding heavily or has walked along this corridor several times for the scent to be so strong.
Dropping the books he took so much care to retrieve, Remus follows the strength of the scent, pelting toward Sirius.
He speaks quietly, even though he is long past the now sleeping portrait of Cassie Black. What happened to the woman? Sirius maintains she only died ten years ago. Less than ten years before that, boys at school were cutting out and collecting pictures of her appearing at her husband’s funeral from the articles in the Prophet.
“Sirius, where are you?”
It still made him ill – That’s our best mate’s MOTHER – but at the time he was preoccupied with the fact that girls at school were cutting out photos of Sirius, standing dutifully next to Cassiopeia Black at his father’s funeral, and sticking them in their schoolbooks. That’s SICK, James raged. It was probably the only time Lily looked the other way when James hexed students.
The house is massive enough for either of them to vanish into for hours on end if they truly intend to hide, but the number of rooms they opened up and cleaned to be habitable is only small. The sharp, pure smell is stronger as he nears the study.
He tries and fails to keep the alarm out of his voice. The study door is closed, but directly next to it, another door – one that he hasn’t noticed before – is propped open. The overpowering scent of blood is emanating from it. Drawing his wand, he pushes the door open, and staggers back as he sees Sirius kneeling on the floor, blood dripping from his fingers and hands.
“Sirius, what are you doing?” The other man looks stunned to see him so soon, and is so pale it is frightening. How much blood has he lost? “What – Please tell me – Sirius, are you in pain?”
The silver eyes sparkle – for the first time in nearly six months, they are alight with some sort of inner fire – as Sirius smiles at him.
“Remus, come here. You have to see this.”
Stepping cautiously inside, not lowering his wand for an instant, he looks around the room, taking in hundreds of little bottles of blood set neatly into the wall – they are arrayed almost to the ceiling. And there are macabre little diagrams and runes painted around each one in blood. And then, worst of all, there are Sirius’ wounds.
“See this diagram? These Runes, here, and here.” Sirius points to a raw and bloody sketch on the floor of the room – it looks freshly painted. “If I add that to the diagrams around my phial, I can remove the security wards around Grimmauld Place. You know what that means? It means I don’t have to believe that this is home for the Order to use the house.”
Dumbledore and Moody examined the house, and the extensive relays of security charms, un-plottable spells and blood wards. They all agree that as long as they use the house, there is nothing for it but for Sirius to keep telling himself, day after day, that this is home – not the little flat in Circe Square the two of them moved into after leaving school – but this house that reminds him everyday of the ideals and hopes it severed when he was younger.
If you remove the security wards, will the Order still want to use the house? He can’t say that. Not yet.
“Sirius, is this all your blood?”
“No, of course not.” Sirius must be light-headed, he is laughing softly. “Every one who was born Black has their blood in this room, in one of the phials. The blood on the floor, that’s mine.” Sirius’ eyes are glittering in the shadows in his face. Silver. Shining silver, set in caves. “See the sketch? How all the lines snap together? All I need to do is put that up around my phial,” Sirius points, and he follows his gaze to the phial labelled Sirius M. Black, in a heavy, Gothic script, “and the blood wards will come down. I’ve solved it.”
“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?”
He knows that roar. Molly Weasley stands at the entrance to the study, hands on hips, and face already starting to turn purple. He can’t believe he hasn’t heard her coming back from the hospital – quite possibly the children are too subdued after seeing Arthur to do anything worth shouting at.
“You can’t be left alone for five minutes!” she continues, barely pausing for breath or an interjection from either of them. “Did you have the slightest inkling of what you were attempting? What would have happened if you’d failed? Or killed yourself? Or altered the wards to attack the rest of us? You thoughtless, stupid, inconsiderate - ”
Sirius’ face, which was practically glowing a moment ago, is shutting down muscle by muscle and reverting into the blank mask his mother taught him to wear in public. How it must hurt, to be spoken to like that, to be spoken over like that, to be dismissed as though you were just another disobedient child. Despite the many problems his own mother and father had with one another, neither of them ever spoke to him in such a fashion.
“Molly,” he says firmly, but as politely as he can. “You must be worried about Arthur, and so must the children be. Why don’t you leave this to me?”
Sirius is still staring after her when Remus kicks the door shut, and pulls him into his arms. “Sirius,” he says softly. Sirius is trying to curl into a ball, probably a reflex from living as a dog, but the way Remus is holding him prevents that. “You didn’t plan to undo the ward, did you?”
He thinks it is true – Sirius hasn’t mentioned this room before, or indicated he knows how to undo or modify the wards that keep them all safe. Seeing the stack of blood magic books underneath the array of phials, he has the sense that Sirius wandered in to locate more research materials and… “Just got curious, and then took it personally the first time the ward dared to resist you.” You never could back down from a challenge, could you?
“I hate this. I’m sick of this. All I want is to alter the ward so that I don’t have to think of this wretched house as my home. All this time I’ve had to act like this is where I want to live, but people just order me about anyway. Molly. Moody. Dumbledore. All of them – none of them are polite, never act like I’m their host, and they’re my guest – just tramp through here as though they own the place, but I’m the one that has to keep lying to myself, blocking out all memories of our flat and what it was like to live there.”
Dumbledore offered to keep Sirius’ memories of his other home – as though Grimmauld Place is his true home, and the flat across the nightclub in Circe Square is nothing more than a place to store his belongings – in his Penseive so Sirius won’t get confused, and endanger them all.
Sirius is shaking now, emotion coursing through his body again. “Why? Why should I keep doing it? Why can’t I change the bloody ward so I can at least have that peace? But no, Molly Weasley says I have to leave it, and has delegated Prefect Lupin to make sure I do. All I’m good for is being ordered around.”
“I wish we’d never come here. That I’d never offered this house as headquarters – I never imagined I’d have to live in it for us to be able to use it. I hate this place. We should have stayed away.”
“I wish we had too, Sirius.”
“I should have just left,” Sirius whispers against his chest, and he realises that Sirius is crying, and he is unable to do anything about it. “Like I did the first time I left here – just run away without saying anything to anybody, so they couldn’t stop me, or reason with me, or trick me into staying for my own good. Run away so I could actually do something to help, instead of standing by helplessly and watching the people I love be hurt.”
He is holding onto Sirius so tightly now it must be hurting both of them. “Don’t say that, Sirius. Please.” I don’t know hat I’d do if you left without telling me. But that only makes Sirius cry harder, weeping into his chest and shaking so violently he is afraid the other man is coming apart in his arms, and he can’t keep Sirius safe, can’t keep Sirius whole, can’t keep Sirius from being hurt even though just staying in this house is supposed to keep his lover safe.
Seeing that he isn’t getting anywhere with that, he changes the subject, moving Sirius gently into his lap, and telling him softly about the books he’s found, how they can get to work on a protection spell for Harry, one that wouldn’t require him to live at the home of his horrible aunt and uncle, see, Sirius, won’t that be nice?
Sirius has one hand fisted in Remus’ robes, and his broken, sobbing breathing calms, but he still doesn’t respond verbally to anything said to him. Settling Sirius more firmly into his lap, he Apparates them back to Sirius’ bedroom. “Wait here for me,” he beseeches, as he places Sirius onto his bed and goes back to his room to lock it.
When he Apparates back, he is surprised to find Sirius is sitting on the edge of the bed waiting for him, removing his robe. “Is this what you wanted?” Sirius asks, sounding exhausted.
It wasn’t, but he isn’t going to tell Sirius that. Not when this is the first time since they have come to this house that Sirius has shown that he wants him. He wonders again how much blood Sirius has lost.
“Always,” he responds, removing his own clothing, allowing it to remain where it falls. Sirius’ hand reaches out for him as he approaches, and he sees that it is still bleeding sullenly. “First, let me - ”
He guides his wand along Sirius’ wounded hand, and his lover shivers and hisses as the cuts close, and as Remus feathers kisses over the healed flesh. Safe, now, without the temptation of the blood. As his kisses move further along Sirius’ arm, Sirius wraps his hand behind Remus’ neck to draw his face up to Sirius’ own.
He feints and reaches for the jar of cream under the bed when Sirius tries to kiss him. Sirius makes a soft sound of protest against his throat instead, as Remus dips his fingers in the cream, and transfers it into Sirius’ hand. Sirius’ expression is unreadable, as he works the cream between his fingers, warming it.
“Will you prepare yourself for me?” he asks, as he places his hand between Sirius’ legs and strokes them apart.
Were you going to leave without saying anything to me, is what he really wants to ask. The thought will not leave him. Coming back to the room to find Sirius getting ready for bed suggests that the answer is ‘no’, but he can’t make himself ask the question. One way he can be certain that Sirius still wants him, that Sirius isn’t simply tolerating him, is to see whether or not Sirius will continue to take the initiative.
“Remus, is something…” Sirius winces in pain, and whispers, “Why won’t you do this for me?” He has almost always stretched Sirius personally before taking him, never relying on spells, or permitting Sirius to do it himself. The one or two times in the past Sirius has attempted it, Remus pushed his hand away and told him no one could put anything in there but him. All of the times he did it, or on the rare occasions Sirius prepared him, there was kissing, or licking, or sucking as a distraction from the initial pain.
“I thought I might let you do some of the work, for a change.” He says it lightly, smiling down at Sirius, and tries to disguise his fear. I need to know that you want this. Want me. You can’t leave without saying anything. You can’t.
“Why did you bring me here, then, if it’s too much work?” Sirius asks, not bothering to sit up to see what he is doing. He lies down on top of Sirius, kisses the frown forming on Sirius’ forehead, and then rolls them over so that Sirius can ride him. The expression on Sirius’ bloodless face is confused and exhausted, and it takes him longer than usual to find his balance.
“Is this because I said I was sick of being ordered around?” He tries to keep his face blank. It is sometimes frightening, how well Sirius knows him. Especially since he still feels as though he is stumbling in the dark without a clue, where knowing what to say around Sirius is concerned.
Sirius is not moving, sitting on his groin like dead weight, demanding, “I’m right, aren’t I?”
“I thought you might feel better if I let you - ”
“ – order you around?”
No. It’s not like that. Just show me you want this, and that you’ll work for it, and that you’re not just putting up with me.
“Is that all right?” He reaches a hand up to trace Sirius’ face, stroking along the stark outline of his skull, still clearly discernible under too little flesh. Sirius makes an impatient noise, and looks away from him for a moment, pulling away from his hand, and starts to move his hips at last, bringing their cocks together and working them against one another. Remus shifts his hands to Sirius’ hips, stroking gently and using the same rhythm Sirius is using to rub himself against his cock. “Sirius?”
“Is this what you want?” Sirius asks again, as if he really believes Remus will want to change his answer now Sirius is straddling him and moving. He nods sharply, trying to keep from thrusting up and displacing Sirius. “If you want me to do this, don’t interfere.” Thinking is difficult with the way Sirius is grinding against him. With some effort, Sirius brings Remus’ hands away from his hips and places them on the headboard.
“What are you doing?” This was a bad idea. You can’t ride me when you’re this weak if I can’t hold you. You’ll fall off. Abruptly, he realises that something is binding his hands – either to one another, or to the headboard itself. “What did – ah,” Sirius grinds back against him again, “take it off, Sirius, I don’t want - ”
“Relax, Remus.” Sirius is lifting himself off, and slipping from the bed.
Red rage obliterates everything else. “Don’t tell me to relax! What did you just do?” He struggles against the restraints, now fighting down panic. He can feel them tear at his wrists. “Sirius! What are you doing?”
“What does it look like? I’m dressing, and then I’m leaving.”
“What? Come back this instant!”
Sirius laughs at him, doing up the fastenings on his robe. “I don’t think so.”
God help him, he is still hard, and it hurts, and he can’t do anything about it. There is nothing touching his cock but air. Anger isn’t going to get him anywhere, clearly. He tries to keep his voice as patient as he can. “Sirius, why are - ”
“Why? Because I don’t want to do all the work, if the only reason you brought me up here was to distract me. Because you’re a patronising bastard. Because I’ve not been able to leave the house to do simple things like buying food, or books, or even walking in the fresh air. I’m stuck back here, unable to protect the people I love. Do you have any idea how two-faced I felt every time Dumbledore made me write to Harry, telling him to stay out of trouble? If I had my way, I’d help him find trouble, and defeat it once and for all. I have the same trouble telling Buckbeak he needs to stay inside and eat rats, instead of being allowed out to hunt for himself.”
Sirius’ calm recitation of everything that is bothering him is a thousand times worse than the explosion he braced himself for. He tries to Apparate out of the restraints and can’t. He can’t do anything but follow his lover with his eyes as Sirius moves about the room, searching for one of his boots, the other dangling from his hand.
“I’m dismissed or ignored by newcomers to an Order that took the lives of two of my best friends, and twelve years of my own. And you don’t understand at all, do you, how humiliating this is for me, how pathetic I feel, how completely useless? This, right now, what I’ve done to you, this is what it feels like – being tied down, unable to get free, unable to help yourself. You can stay there for all of me, until you realise that this is how helpless I feel every single day, Remus. This is what I’ve had to live with since I got here.”
“Sirius, this isn’t funny.” Sirius laughs again. “Let me up and we can talk about this.” The cords fight back as he twists against them. There is a limit to how much his arms can bend. Perhaps he can turn around and bite through the cords?
“I tried to talk about it before, and you just brought me up here. Was it supposed to be my reward for being a good boy and doing what Molly told me to?”
Sirius flings the boot at him. “Shut up!” It bounces loudly but harmlessly off the wall and onto the floor.
This is the explosion, at last. It is almost a welcome relief when it comes, and Sirius’ expression is no longer careful or guarded. It is one he knows all too well – fight or flight. Sirius is either going to come back to the bed, unbind him and apologise, or whatever he is about to say or do next will be brutal.
“I should leave the door open. Then you’d know what true helplessness is. But I can’t bear to even look at you right now.”
The door slams, and he is alone.
Sirius has his back to him, painting something next to one of the phials on the wall. He is frowning in concentration, once more completely absorbed in the challenge before him. That expression – of complete and perfect concentration – once belonged to him. It used to be that Sirius only ever looked at him like that. There were mornings – there will be those mornings again, there should be – when he woke up to Sirius gazing down at him with that expression, totally intent on how to please him and oblivious to the rest of the world.
You loved me once, he thinks with absolute certainty, watching Sirius glare at the runes. And now, as far as their relationship is concerned, Sirius has the attention span of a puffskein. Either that, or Sirius intended to leave him tied to the bed for much longer. The frown lifts as Sirius appears to reach a decision, and completes the diagram he is constructing. He tenses for an instant, waiting for the house to fall down around them, and when it doesn’t, lets out a sigh.
“That was cruel.” Sirius doesn’t turn around, occupying himself instead with stacking the books he’s been using to one side, and clearing up his tools. He feels defeated – completely exhausted. “Can I come in?” he asks, more loudly.
At that, Sirius finally turns around and stares at him, as though seeing or hearing him for the first time. He feels like shit – his hair must look worse than James’ ever did, his clothing is rucked, his wrists are raw and scraped and he is fairly sure his eyes are red.
“Of course you can come in,” Sirius says. “Are you – Can I – ” All signs of anger on Sirius’ face have gone. “Are you all right?”
“You scared me, Sirius. I thought you were going to force me.” Sirius looks appalled. “And then you left me there, and I wasn’t sure which was worse. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I haven’t taken you seriously.” He reaches out to Sirius, and Sirius steps into his embrace without hesitation. “I knew you hated it, hated being here, but when you tied – When you – ” He can’t make himself say it. “When you did what you did just now, it became clear how awful this must be for you. I hated it.”
And there was a pretty good chance you’d come back to release me, but… I haven’t been doing anything to get you out of here, have I? He strokes Sirius’ back gently. I saw you change the ward. Were you so angry with me that you would have left without saying anything if I hadn’t come here to find you? He can’t bear to think of that, now. All he can think is that he has to convince Sirius to stay with him – whether it is here or their old flat or… It doesn’t matter, where.
One arm is wrapped around Sirius’ waist, holding him close, trying to keep him forever, and Sirius is still against him, allowing himself to be kept close. “Being trapped up here,” he taps at Sirius’ head, but the movement changes into a stroking motion along the length of his hair, all the way down to his ribs now, and back up again, “must be worse than anything. So don’t worry about the wards. Change them. If anybody asks me, I’ll lie.”
“You shouldn’t have to lie for me,” Sirius says, finally winding his arms around him.
“No, I - ”
“Don’t, Remus. You always hated doing it, you shouldn’t have to keep doing it now.” Sirius sighs, resting his face against Remus’ throat and saying softly, sadly, “I’ve altered the ward – made it stronger, so that should keep everybody happy. But it doesn’t have to interfere with my thoughts anymore. It’s a very powerful, dark spell. As long as I’m within the walls of this house, we’re still safe, and untraceable. I have to be here, but I don’t have to live here.”
But how can you leave, if the house can’t be used unless you’re in it? This thought gives him hope – Sirius wasn’t planning to run away again. “So this isn’t home anymore?”
“Home is anywhere you are, Remus.” He fights down the hope that is spreading through him. I thought this would be enough, but it isn’t. As pathetic as it is, he doesn’t think he’ll ever get tired of hearing Sirius say things like that. When Sirius does, he feels far from pathetic, but it is never enough. Why can I never be certain?
Sirius pulls away slightly, and takes his torn wrists into his hands. “I – You made me so angry, and I wanted to get away from you before I hurt you. Hurt you more. Didn’t want you following after me.” Sirius strokes his fingers over the torn flesh, healing it wandlessly, and lifts his hands to his lips to be kissed, smiling as he returns the gesture Remus made earlier.
Sirius can wound without his wand as easily as he can heal. Dark spells, that tear, and break and hurt, so like the spells that heal, restore and mend. He always forgets that just as Sirius can hurt as easily as he can heal, his seemingly boundless capacity for love is coupled with an equally large capacity for hatred. He doesn’t doubt that Sirius has hated him at times almost as much as he has loved him at others. But what do you feel now?
“Risky, chewing yourself free. Didn’t they ever teach you werewolf bites transmitted the Curse?”
“I must have missed that lesson,” he replies solemnly. “Luckily, I was already a werewolf when I bit myself, or I might have turned myself into one.”
Sirius laughs, and they lean in toward one another, resting their foreheads together. The easiest way to diffuse Sirius, he has learned, is to make him laugh. It was never as easy for him to do that as it was for James, but then he doesn’t have a steady stream of Slytherins to hex for Sirius’ entertainment. When is Snape coming around again? He tells himself the two thoughts are unrelated.
Softly, Sirius asks, “Did you really think letting me control the rhythm at which we fucked would keep me quiet about being locked up in this house?” He starts to say something in his defence, when Sirius continues, “Being locked up here isn’t even the worst of it. The worst of it is when I start thinking about whether it was worth running away the first time. What have I really achieved? Lily and James died anyway, Harry still can’t live with me, Wormtail’s still alive, and Voldemort’s still hurting the people I love. Could I have done more good and less harm if I’d stayed here, and tried to influence my mother to use the Black name to defeat Voldemort?”
He can think of nothing to say, and it appears that Sirius isn’t really interested in what he thinks, anyway. “Can I see the books you found? You know, it occurred to me that we might be thinking about this the wrong way. We’ll still have to read everything we have about the Resurrection Spell, but I’m almost certain the link is more of a mental thing than - ” Remus lets this wash over him, because Sirius has moved on from the words he truly wants. He said that home was with me, wherever I was. He said that.
By evening, they are just words again, and have lost all meaning.