Notes to start with: this story takes place in the summer before year 5, but please note it's an AU diverging at that point—yes, I'm a book 5 atheist, but I do my best not to write cheap denial fic. ; Some elements of book 5 will stay, but continuity problems with "Order of the Phoenix" weren't an issue to me. You can point them out if it makes you feel better, but don't expect me to "fix" them. However, I think the AU element is really not in-your-face at all here, and I think if you read on, you won't have any trouble just relaxing into it. Hope you enjoy!
Harry Potter FanFiction
by Fox in the Stars
Only a few rays of late-morning light struggled into the kitchen through the grimy, high-set windows. The wooden table was illuminated by several levitating crystal glasses—scavenged from the cupboards—full of magic flames. Alastor Moody, Molly Weasley, Remus Lupin, and Sirius Black were sitting, taking a moment to collect their thoughts after a first survey of the old Black House at No. 12 Grimmauld Place. The glasses of fire and the warm tea kettle managed to cast a homely glow around the four of them, but the rest of the room was a dim, musty shambles—to say nothing of the rest of the house.
"The first trick is knowing where to even start," Moody said.
Molly poured hot water over the tea-bags in three cups; Moody would only drink from the flask that never left his person. "I know," she said. "Did you see the drawing room? Good gracious, I never saw a place in such a state..."
"I knew it would be bad," Sirius admitted.
"But still, it's ideal in so many ways," Lupin reminded him. "Unplottable, I think I felt an Unwelcoming charm on the door as we came in..."
Moody nodded. "Something sure reacted when you told us to come on inside."
"It needs a lot of work, yes, but once it's in order, it'll be an excellent headquarters."
"I hope so," Sirius said with a weary smile.
"We'll just have to stay on our guard—and watch that house-elf," Moody said.
"Where is he, anyway?"
Alastor's eye swivelled in all directions, scanning the house. "Couple floors up, a little over that way," he said, pointing in the air.
"Mum and Dad's bedroom, most likely," Sirius said.
"We should think about what we want to be able to do here first," Remus suggested. "That will tell us where to start cleaning." He uncovered his teacup, fished out the bag, and put it on the saucer, which he pushed to the middle of the table. "If you could all save the tea-bags—"
"I thought I'd broken you of that," Sirius said, raising an eyebrow.
"Not to drink, don't worry," Lupin said. When Sirius had begun staying with him at the start of the summer, he'd been so used to poverty that he would keep re-using each tea-bag until the paper fell apart. Sirius had insisted that he break the habit, even threatening to buy him a barrel full of embarassingly expensive imported tea leaves if he didn't let one go after two cups. "I thought I'd write out some protection charms as talismans for the house," he explained, "and the more manual effort put into that kind of thing, the stronger the effect. I can boil them down for ink."
"Good thinking!" Moody agreed. "Make it yourself and you know no one's done anything to jinx it, and if you've all drunk the tea and are fine, fairly sure it's safe."
"Drinking tea to make sure the dregs are safe?" Sirius questioned wryly as he took a sip.
"The first thing we'll want is a place to hold meetings," Molly said, getting them back on track.
"I think here in the kitchen would be best," Lupin suggested. "Getting it to the point that we can cook and have meals would help, as well."
"I'd like to have somewhere safe for Harry to come as soon as we can," Sirius added, and pretended not to notice Mrs. Weasley's stare. "He seemed to want to move in with me as soon as he could, and that was over a year ago..."
Molly hesitated. "I don't know what Albus would think about that. He always says Harry's best protected there, with family..."
"Well, I'm family, aren't I? Probably moreso than those...!" Sirius must have noticed Remus's mouth tighten slightly, because he let the impending insult die on his tongue. "Albus needs to remember who Harry's godfather is. It isn't him."
The four of them sat in awkward silence for a moment. Molly's brows and lips screwed up as if she were biting her tongue.
"It would be best to prepare a room here where we could board people." Lupin finally spoke, gently angling for a compromise. "I'd hardly feel safe about that now, and it isn't so useful to have a house no one can sleep in."
"We can take my old bedroom for that," Sirius said.
"I was going to suggest starting there," Moody said, only one eye toward the conversation; the others had long since stopped thinking it strange when the "mad eye" roved in all directions. "Easiest place to get clean. Could tell when I walked in there, you pulled a whole different air than the rest of the house."
"Thank you, that's the best compliment I've gotten in a long time," he said with a grin. "...We'll have to clean out the attic for Buckbeak, too, probably not as hard..."
"Attic and kitchen won't be hard, as this place goes," Alastor agreed, "parts of the house the family wouldn't have gone in much..." His second pupil came back to the fore. "Kreacher's coming down the stairs."
Quiet fell over the table again for a long moment. Remus had just finished his tea when the house-elf's angry muttering came into earshot from the stairway. There was a slight rustle, and then a terrible shriek split the air— "SIRIUS LUCIEN BLACK!"
Sirius slammed his cup down, splashing the last of his tea onto the table, and clapped his hands over his ears. "I am going to tell him not set her off!" he shouted over the din of his mother's portrait holding forth.
"SHAME OF MY FLESH! STAIN ON MY NAME! YOUR FATHER DIED OF DISGRACE! . . ."
"Incendio." At the word from Lupin, the fireplace in Sirius' childhood bedroom crackled to life, now that he'd thoroughly checked it for any curse or magical trap and deemed it safe. Its glow turned the whole room shades of gold, finally drowning out the weak gray light from the open doorway.
Remus stood up from the fire in his knit vest and his shirtsleeves, which were rolled up enough to show scabs on his forearms from the last full moon, but no need to hide them from anyone here. His old, much-mended robe hung on the upper corner of the door. So many years of his life were in that robe, it would have some effectiveness there as a sentry if any of the house's curses or creatures came to attack, and in a more mundane way, it would also interfere with the latch if any dark magic tried to lock them inside the room.
He had volunteered to help here; with this room potentially full of objects with old sentimental ties, Sirius would surely be better off having a friend helping him with the task. Meanwhile, Molly and Alastor had said they would start work on the kitchen, although Lupin thought he'd heard Alastor's wooden leg thumping through the floor below, making more sweeps through the house. Molly surely had her own idea how the kitchen should come together; Remus was ashamed to think so, but he didn't blame Moody if he preferred to stay out of her way.
"What do you think, just throw these out?" Sirius asked, piling up the linens he'd pulled off the bed. Wanting to make this room as secure as possible, they'd decided it would be best to strip it completely and start over from the bare walls, but the only safe way to do it was to go through everything as it was discarded.
Lupin nodded. "Just pile them for now. I'd rather play safe and not move them out of the room, in case that would set anything off. Better to burn them in here, but I'll make up the fire specially later, with matches..."
"Always do things the hard way, eh? Like Arabella always taught us."
"It's the best way, and this is no place to cut corners. Especially not if Harry will be moving in."
"He probably won't be. Wise Old Headmaster Dumbledore knows what's best," Sirius said, giving his mouth a sarcastic twist. "But a godfather should say his peace at any rate."
Lupin paused before answering; disagreements over Harry were something he didn't want to be in the middle of, especially when Dumbledore came into it. Although he tried his best to avoid voicing a judgement, in his heart he generally took Sirius's side. Maybe he was showing favoritism to the best friend who had practically returned from the dead for him, but sometimes he wondered if anyone else could see how important Harry was to Sirius, how seriously he took being a godfather... "Everyone just wants what's best for him," he said at last. That could hardly be impolitic.
"The bookshelf could be tricky. I'd better handle it."
"I'm right here if you need a hand," Sirius answered, turning from the now-bare bed and training his wand at the wardrobe. "Brace yourself... Alohomora!" The wardrobe sprang open, but thankfully nothing came out except a swirl of dust.
Lupin started toward the bookshelf but paused as his robe rustled in the doorway. A small, shrivelled figure slunk into the room—the manor's lone remaining house-elf. "Hello, Kreacher."
Kreacher cast only a disdainful sniff in his direction and began muttering as if to himself, although he was obviously quite aware of Lupin and Sirius. "Trashy people Young Master brings here, drags all manner of scum through My Lady's house... This one smells like halfblood mongrel such as ought not talk to even My Lady's lowest servant, Kreacher..."
"Can I help you?" Sirius asked bitingly.
"Can he help. Young Master wants to know if he can help Kreacher. Young Master could help if he—"
"Don't say it!" Sirius cut him off.
Remus had to assure himself that Kreacher's "mongrel" epithet was surely just for the mixed-blood implication, but he happily noted that talking like a house-elf's master didn't come naturally to his friend. Pragmatically, he knew it could present a problem if Sirius had to give Kreacher an order and reflexively began with a "will you?" or ended with a "won't you?" that deflected the obligation it was supposed to impose, but he still preferred not to see Sirius immediately casting unsoftened, totally unambiguous orders on a being with no choice but to obey.
A picture frame lay on the floor in front of the bookshelf, face-down in the shards of its own glass. As Remus knelt to pick it up, Kreacher shuffled toward him and began to reach for it instead.
"Just leave us alone," Sirius said. "Go... go move everything in the attic to the upstairs sitting room." The house-elf glared at him and grudgingly walked away, still muttering.
Lupin was just getting back to his task when a phumph sound made him look up. Kreacher had pulled his robe off the door on the way out and was dragging it away.
"...Get rid of shameful gutter trash, filthy mongrel stink..."
"Stop it!" Sirius barked, striding after the dragging hem as it disappeared into the hallway. "Give that to me! Do you want clothes? Is that it?"
"No, no, Kreacher must stay," came his voice through the doorway. "Kreacher must stay as Young Master's servant and not tell where is Young Master who is sentenced to Dementor's Kiss and has friends who keep secrets..."
"Oh, there are ways around that. 'Young Master' and some of his 'friends who keep secrets' could cast such a memory charm as no one would ever get my happy homecoming back out from. Or do you doubt it?"
"Kreacher must stay! Must must stay!" he insisted, now more desperate. "Ancient and Most Noble House of Black has never in many hundred years dismissed a house-elf! Never, never...! Kreacher must never leave My Lady's house...!" The house-elf's voice faded down the hallway, still ranting.
Sirius returned with the shabby robe and gave a hot sigh, but then a lighter mood seemed to come over him. As he hung it back up on the door he inhaled deeply from it and smiled.
Remus cocked his head.
"Seems 'filthy halfblood mongrels' smell like tea and chocolate, mainly."
He chuckled as Sirius went back to the wardrobe, but when he finally picked up the picture frame, his smile fell. It held a photo of himself and Sirius at the end of their first year at Hogwarts, together with James Potter and Peter Pettigrew as always—all four of the first-year Gryffindor boys. It was a warm memory of posing for Arabella to take the picture: how he'd struggled to hold his playful white cat, how James had knocked Peter's hat forward over his face just as the flash of purple smoke went off... But Sirius's relatives had altered the moving figures in this print in a very mean-spirited way. He took it out of the frame and folded it several times, image to the inside, before tucking it in his pocket. They would definitely have to burn it, but he determined to make sure Sirius didn't see it first.
"I might have guessed this," Sirius said from the wardrobe. He'd produced the black pointed hat from his old school uniform, and Remus could see the stray threads sticking out where the sewn-in points of red and gold cloth had been ripped from the hatband. "Everything 'Gryffindor' they got rid of: my ties, my scarves..." He looked at the hat wistfully for a moment before tossing it at the pile of items to be burned and pulling out his old school robes to throw on the heap as well. From the level of his shoulders, they only hung to his knees now; he hadn't lived in this room or this house since he'd been thirteen years old, over twenty years ago. He reached back into the wardrobe. "Oh, dear Morgan..."
Lupin decided that the bookshelf could wait and walked over to Sirius; better to focus on helping sort through the clothes and all the thoughts and memories they were bringing up. After all, that was a kind of magic, too, subtler but deeper.
Sirius had pulled out a sheeny dark purple robe with geometric patterns of couched gold braid all over it and pale green ruffles at the neck and sleeves—a tasteless relic of shifting high-society fashion. "I remember them dressing me up in this for social parties... Mum picked it out, I assure you. Are you sure we can't throw this in the fireplace right now?"
Remus took it. "I'll tuck it under the linens where no one has to look at it."
"At least not until they get to watch it burn. The rest aren't so bad..."
One by one, Sirius took out an assortment of more tasteful robes, shirts, and trousers; all were now quite dusty and mind-bogglingly small, but in good condition. Remus recognized some as the clothes Sirius had worn outside of class their first two school years, the things he'd picked for himself. They showed fine fabrics and tailoring, but tended toward elegant simplicity of design: a plain white shirt with a standing collar; a dusky purple robe with one black stripe all the way down the front and back from the top of the left shoulder; another robe in grey-faded black broken only by the wide, straight sleeve-cuffs, which age had mellowed from the original bright scarlet... He could remember Sirius waking him for some night-time adventure through Hogwarts' cold hallways in wintertime, how in the darkness, all that could really be seen of him was his face atop the red-and-gold Gryffindor scarf and his hands framed by those scarlet cuffs.
"Will you have any regrets about burning any of these?" Remus asked.
"No reason to. Assuming we could exorcise this house out of them, even all of Arthur and Molly's kids have outgrown them. Although..." He pulled out another robe in smartly-tailored velvet, held it up against his shoulder, and picked at the ragged, shapeless garment he was wearing for contrast. "I do wish I could just walk into Madam Malkin's."
"I hope someday soon," Lupin said sadly. Sirius had never been what he would call vain, but back in the old days, before Azkaban, he had been very handsome and confidently aware of it. Never fussy or showy about clothes, but always with a naturally keen eye for what became him, he had enjoyed looking good. In the past two years as a fugitive, however, he'd been surviving in these rough prison robes the color of a soot-stain, and his black hair—always handsome as silk in his youth—was an overgrown mess. This was the first time he had heard Sirius complain, but he felt certain that his friend was bothered by it.
Of course, Remus couldn't give him anything better; the clothes he was wearing, his robe on the door, and one threadbare night-robe were all the clothes he had. They couldn't have Sirius leave a trail by using his own money, and Lupin was so poor that he would look half-suspicious even turning up to buy something nice to wear—he'd sacrificed his Wolfsbane Potion this past month just to afford feeding another person and a hippogriff.
Unfortunately, that had meant letting the Ministry put him up in one of their tiny "safe confinement" cells, leaving Sirius with Arabella, and leaving the poor old lady to explain to his friend where he'd disappeared to. Sirius had of course been enraged, but by the time Remus got back, a few days had passed and he was in too sorry a state to shout at very much. He felt guilty for putting Arabella between himself and his just punishment, but supposed with a little smile that he still had some of the old schemer in him after all.
Sirius tossed the last of his old robes onto the growing pile to empty the main compartment of the wardrobe, but when he reached for the top drawer, it gave a rattle. "Ah, looks like we've got something living in here."
"Anything unusual about that drawer?"
"I used to hide things in it that I didn't want Mum to find—enchanted it so that no one could see what was inside or reach in and get it; you had to pull the drawer out and dump it. A boggart got in there, most likely, attracted to the spell."
"I can get it out, then."
"Let's save it for a while; it might just leave now that we've made some commotion. There's something else I'd like to look at."
Sirius led the way out of the bedroom and Remus followed, taking his robe as he passed it and carrying it over his arm. When they'd gone through the house, they'd left all the doors standing open, but in this hallway, Kreacher had made a point to shut some of them again, including the one Sirius walked down and across the to. "Ready?"
Lupin nodded; both of them trained their wands at the door.
"Alohomora." The door swung open in hauntingly well-oiled silence to reveal the master bedroom. Nothing came out at them, but both kept their wands at the ready; this was the only well-kept room in the house, and therefore the most unnerving room by far. When they'd first opened it that morning and Alastor had seen everything clean and polished, he'd been so suspicious that he had taken out his magical eye, rolled it across the floor into the room ahead of him, and held everyone far back from the doorway until he was satisfied with what it saw. Kreacher had obviously been fastidious about his "Lady's" bedchamber even as he let the rest of the house go to ruin, which might be explanation enough, but all were staying on the alert for something more sinister.
Lupin again hung his robe on the door and left it open as Sirius crossed the room warily, around the huge, silk-dressed canopy bed to the opposite corner where one of the room's two wardrobes stood, tall and made of fine, elaborately carved mahogany. The rich, nearly-black red finish and the silver fittings shone from careful polish, but the doors weren't latched; one of them stood just slightly ajar.
"Be careful," Remus warned as Sirius approached it. He stood off the corner of the bed, keeping a clear path from Sirius to himself and from himself to the door.
"I see it." Very carefully, he opened the wardrobe and slid the hangers across the bar one by one, checking each garment. They were all fine men's robes, from the same era as the ghastly purple-with-ruffles in Sirius's room, but they'd been chosen to give a more stately air and thus were in styles that had weathered the years more gracefully. Obviously no expense had been spared on even one of them; all were silk or velvet with elaborate embroidery, handmade lace, or the like.
"Your father's clothes?"
"You're not thinking of putting any of those on...?"
"I'm thinking of having Alastor run them through the full gauntlet. If there's anything left when he's done, then I might think about putting that on." He cast Lupin a look as if to say "What else am I supposed to do?"
"If he'll let you, I won't argue."
Still moving warily, Sirius took the robes from the wardrobe and lay them out in view on the bed. "Come on, Moony. Let's take care of that boggart."
They returned to Sirius's bedroom, Lupin again taking his robe and hanging it on the door as they entered.
"I just thought," Sirius said, "there's probably room for the Castle in here."
"Yes, I believe so." Lupin's house—Sirius had taken to calling it his 'Castle in the Sky'—was a dented, decades-old pipe tobacco tin he carried in his pocket, a lucky find that had fallen into a Muggle junk shop. No matter how many times the tin was opened, it always had exactly one match inside, and, Remus had thought at the time, why call in the Ministry to de-enchant it and Obliviate the hapless shopkeeper when he could quietly buy it and have matches forever for fifteen pence? Better yet, it had turned out that when the match was struck and dropped inside, the tin would transform into a cabin which he'd lived in ever since, but even at its full size it would easily fit inside this bedroom.
"How safe would we be if we set it up in here for the night?"
"Safe enough, I should think."
As Lupin crossed to the wardrobe, Sirius followed behind him, wand ready to assist. No matter how many times Remus faced a boggart and saw it turn into a full moon, and no matter how surely he knew that it was harmless, it always gave him a chill. It was as if it touched something even deeper and worse than the fear of his horrible transformations, something he had never quite had the courage to pursue and identify. Still, for him it was easily manageable. Over the years, he'd thought of dozens of amusing circular things to turn it into, and he didn't want to think about what Sirius's worst fear might look like.
He pulled the drawer open and sure enough, a silvery orb popped out of it and hovered in the air before his eyes. It gave him that old shudder, but he'd felt that many times before and still done what was to be done... "Riddikulus."
The boggart transformed into a fat white hamster running in a floating wheel. Whimsical, but not truly funny...
At the sight of the hamster in a shock-pink mohican, Sirius burst out laughing, and the boggart exploded in a puff of smoke.
To be continued...