Cokeworth had the same awful stench as always, a putrid odor seeping out of the filthy river. The stench was only made worse by the unusually high temperature that June morning. Spinner's End was even more dismal that the rest of Cokeworth, a great majority of homes simply abandoned and boarded up with whatever chunks of wood or cardboard that could be found. Broken streetlamps lay across the sidewalks, and stuck out every few feet from the nearly black river. The abandoned wool mill looked even closer to collapse than it had been the last time Severus had returned, and several new pieces of graffiti lines its decaying walls. Overgrown shrubs and briers lines the river along with several weeds and shards of grass.
In his perch beneath the a large oak tree, the only relief from the damned heat as no one in this part of town owned air conditioning, he cast a glance at his own decrepit house. From his spot in the empty lot where mostly all of the members of Spinner's End were huddled beneath the tree, he could easily keep an eye out for trouble. The damn police seemed to enjoy nothing better than harassing the various members who inhabited this slum. As if their lives were not wretched enough without their constant harassment. The only small silver lining that had occurred in the last decade of this slum was the abandoned house of the Giuseppe's collapsing and leaving them with this shaded area.
But the heat or the policemen were not the main focus for Severus that hot noon morning, the thing that kept caught his attention was the house directly across from him. Having just gotten back very late at night, he had not noticed that the old Baker houses windows were no longer boarded up. He turned his head toward the blonde woman who slumped against the tree trunk next to him. "What is happening at the Baker house?"
"Yesterday morning a man came into town and started to work on the house." Elise rasped, stopping to have a coughing fit. "He didn't stay for long, took of right after ripping the boards away."
"Who can blame him? Anyone in their right minds would run at the sight of this slum." The Colonel said in his rumbling voice, his blind eyes staring off at nothing in particular.
"Well, if he's poor enough he doesn't really have a choice does he?" Gordon rasped, his voice hoarse with the sickness that always seemed to afflict the town.
"Even if he's poor he likely has something better lined up." Severus muttered, knowing that Spinner's End was the very last option for anyone with a functioning brain. "Cokeworth is the slum of slums."
"And Spinner's End is even worse." Gordon agreed, stopping to cough heavily into a ratty rag. "He'd have to be the poorest of the poor to have to live here."
"Dammit!" Severus cursed as he watched young Gavroche stop from his play with the other unfortunate children to hack and hack. "Does everyone have croup again?" Hadn't he just passed out potions to the neighborhood to cure it? How the hell was something like croup so hard to get rid of? Especially with the aid of magic?
"What else is new?" Elise sighed, her usual joviality gone from both voice and face. "But all things considered it could always be worse."
"How so?" Gordon demanded, his face dripping with sweat.
"We are all still alive." Elise answered, a smile gracing her face again.
"Death would be a relief." The Colonel insisted sadly. "This isn't any life to be living."
"Must you men always be so negative!?" Elise demanded, exasperation in her voice.
"We're only being realistic, Elise." Severus countered, passing over the flask of water he'd been sharing with the small group leaning against the tree. It was filled with the water from the fountains on the good side of town, as no one dared to drink the water from the river of the taps. And as they were not wanted on the better side of town, most of the time the residents of Spinner End resorted to boiling water from the river in a time-consuming process. It was a rare treat when they could simply enjoy the pleasure of water immediately, even if it was warm.
"If life here is already so horrid, you don't need to add to it with your negativities. Can't you enjoy the small pleasures God gives us!?" Elise asked, her blonde hair sticking to her face. "Didn't Hilly just have a baby boy last night?"
Severus sighed, not in any mood to hear the light scolding but not daring the upset the skinny woman. While she was the happiest person he had ever meant, her rare anger was fierce. He simply nodded, closing his eyes in an attempt to keep the sun from stabbing into them.
"Yeah, and how is she going to feed it? Eight kids now- it's a wonder they're all still alive!" Gordon pointed out realistically. It was hard to keep one child fed in this ghetto, much less eight.
"Can't you be happy for her?" Elise asked. "She's finally got the girl she's wanted."
"We go all damn year without voicing a complaint as we toil away." Gordon barked. "You'll excuse me if I give in every now and then."
Gavroche Smith ran about the alleyways without a shirt, his mates right beside him as they took turns kicking at a can with their bare feet. Careful to avoid the glass that there never seemed to be a shortage of, they laughed and coughed and coughed and coughed some more. He was in a particularly good mood, as the adults in the town had declared in entirely too hot for any real work to be done-especially for the children. Which was a rare occurrence as hard work was all anyone in Spinner's End had ever known. He could only recall one other time that had happened, and that was two years ago and it had been so cold that the Colonel had sworn he'd frozen solid for hours.
"Who're they?" Gavroche stilled as he noticed a man with black hair in front of the old Baker house along with a large group of people. They were all well-dressed, although some of them wore really odd clothes like Severus did when he went out late at night and didn't like to talk about.
"They have fancy clothes on." Flossy whispered, amazement in her eyes as she clearly noticed a silver bracelet on a bushy-haired girl.
"They're wearing shoes." Johnny breathed. "And it's not even winter time!"
"Let's get closer!" Gavroche insisted, already leading the way. They were quiet, used to be sneaky as they crept along up the alley until they were directly in front of the house, only a few feet away from the group and hidden by bags of rubbish as the garbage man never seemed to come to this part of town more than one a month.
Gavroche listened, not even having to strain his ears as life in Spinner's End revolved around stealth. "Merlin, it reeks! It's even worse in this heat!" The black haired man was gagging.
"That's the man from yesterday." Johnny whispered.
"It's only for a while, Sirius." A black-haired bespectacled boy was saying. "You'll get your money cleared up in no time. At least you're name is cleared."
"He used to be a prisoner." Gavroche exchanged excited looks with his friends, hoping that the man would have good stories to share from his time in prison.
"As soon as your accounts are freed up, you can get a better house." The teenager was saying again. "In a better neighborhood." He added, scrunching his nose up.
"At least you're out of Grimmauld Place." A scruffy looking man with greying brown hair was saying, his face green as if the smell was affecting him more strongly than anyone else in the group.
"Where's Grimmauld place?" Johnny asked. "It must be a rich part of London."
"If he's from a rich part of London, why is he here?" Flossy pointed out.
"Maybe he lost his money like the people here when the mill closed down." Gavroche reasoned. "Or when he went to prison."
"And don't you worry." A redheaded woman was saying, her face warm and kind like Elise's. "We'll have the house looking proper in no time." The woman's voice was just kind as her face and Gavroche immediately liked her.
"And I'm sure they neighbors are nice." The bushy-haired girl was saying, although her voice sounded as if she didn't really believe what she was saying.
"Oh yes." The black-haired man was saying sarcastically. "I'm sure they're not gutter trash at all."
Gavroche riled, anger filling him. How dare that man insult them? He didn't even know them! Like he should be talking! He was an ex-convict! At least no one in this place had ever been arrested- well at least not lawfully. They got arrested all the time, but only because the officer's seemed to think it was great fun to pick on them.
"We aren't gutter-trash." Flossy hissed, her eyes full of hurt.
"He's not any better." Gavroche nodded. "Let's go tell Elise! She'll chew him out!"