The sagging, worn, stairs creaked beneath the weight of the man, straining to bear the burden with each step that he took. No one had mounted this stairwell in years, not since the lady of the house had died, some seven years previous, and it had been expected that no one ever would again.
That was, until, he returned.
Sirius Black, the last living member of his immediate family, was back within the walls of Number 12, Grimmauld Place. Not necessarily of his own free will, but he was back just the same, and in a very foul disposition.
Ever since the Order had moved into the house, the wizard had been cooped up, confined within its rooms, feeling useless and uneasy. The only way he'd been able to help, was by offering up his childhood home for their headquarters, and by assisting in the purging and cleaning of the place, from top to bottom.
Today, however, his mission was to seek out some old maps that had belonged to his father, marking off properties and sectors of land owned by some of the wizarding communities most prestigious families, who were also known Death Eaters. It had been Dumbledore's idea, to let Sirius have the task, and Sirius had a feeling that it was only to make him feel more important in the plans.
He'd nearly resisted, nearly told them that if they wanted to let him help, they could at least let him go out and fight.
But he had kept his mouth shut and obliged, and now here he was, mounting the stairs to the attic, a place he had not set foot in for nearly twenty years. He wasn't pleased, not in the least, about having to rummage through his parents old belongings, but reasoning had told him it was a far better task to have, then, say, cleaning out the second floor dining room.
Reaching the head of the stairs, Sirius sighed, staring at the back of the door, as though hoping it would burst into flame, rendering it impossible for him to continue beyond it. He had no such luck, as it just remained intact, covered in dust, it's once high-polished appearance cracked and peeling.
With every once of resolve he could muster, Sirius reached out one thin hand to grasp the knob, grunting when it didn't give right away. Leaning in with his shoulder, he gave a slight push with his body weight, and the door swung up in a cloud of dust.
Blinking in the dim light as the dust began to settle, Sirius pulled out his wand, lighting the tip as he stepped inside. He knew there was a window somewhere along the back wall, he just had to find it and uncover it, that would provide him enough light to be able to work by. Slowly he began to weave amongst the boxes and trunks, squinting into the darkness along the wall. It didn't take long to find the window, which was covered by a set of heavy black drapes. He gave them a tug, which was all it took for the aged and moth eaten material to fall, making way for the sunlight to filter in.
Satisfied that it would do, he tucked the wand away in his pocket, finally taking the time to observe the room in full.
For the most part, it looked to be a conglomeration of things his mother had collected over the years, each box having been marked and stacked neatly according to its contents. That would certainly make his job easier. Hidden amongst the boxes were a few trunks, one he recognized to be his brothers' old Hogwarts trunk, tucked away into a corner. There were a few old paintings, several of them empty of their inhabitance, and an old top hat that had belonged to his father.
Pulling on the old hat, for nothing more then his own morbid amusement, Sirius sighed heavily, wrinkling his nose as he stared at row after row of boxes, not sure of exactly where to begin. "Well, best pick a jumping off point and go with it," he muttered to himself, kneeling on the floor. "If I know my father, he put the damn things in the last place I'd ever think to look, just out of spite."
So the dark haired wizard began to shift boxes, reading each neat label out loud to the empty room, each prospect as unlikely as the last. "Fine China. Letter Seals. Diagon Alley Credit Bills. Sirius's Room."
He very nearly passed the box on over, not fully realizing what came out of his mouth until he'd already shoved it aside. Hastily, as the words that had just passed through his lips fully dawned on him, he reached for the moldy cardboard container, pulling it back to make sure he hadn't heard himself wrong. "Sirius's Room? Why on earth is this up here?"
Sirius had always assumed that when he'd left home, having runaway to live with the Potter's at the age of sixteen, that his mother had destroyed all of the belongings he had left behind. It hadn't been much, just a few odds and ends that had remained behind in his bedroom, but Mrs. Black would have taken great pleasure in ridding the house of the last lingering memories of her oldest son.
Only, if the label on the box was correct, that wasn't necessarily so. Perhaps his mother had kept his things, tucked them away in the attic, in hopes that he might come to his senses and return, despite the fact that she'd called him a blood traitor, proclaimed that he was certainly no son of hers, and had told him to never darken her doorstep again.
Had the woman really had a place in her heart for him after all?
The idea made his stomach churn, as all he could do was stare at the parcel, running his long fingers over the taped lid, silently debating about whether or not to open it, or shove it aside with the rest of his past and continue his search. What if it really wasn't anything he wanted to see? There was a good chance that she'd put something foul inside, with the idea that he might stumble upon it someday. Or perhaps it was even just empty, its contents having been thrown out long ago.
It seemed to be ages, that he stood there debating with himself, before curiosity finally won out above all else. Forgetting about the maps, and the rest of the Order waiting for him downstairs, Sirius plopped down onto the grimy floor, inhaling deeply as he tugged the binding away from the box lid, pulling it open.
His nose was greeted with a sweet scent, one that sent his mind reeling with familiarity. It was cologne, and more then that, it was his cologne. He hadn't smelled it in years, not since 1976. His mother had bought it for him, every Christmas until he'd left. "Imported from Paris," he whispered, still leaning over the box, sniffing intently. "Automne Français. The finest money can buy."
A slight smile crossed Sirius's lips as he reached to pull open the flaps of the box, giving him access to the contents, now eager to see what was inside. His dark eyes were greeted by a wide array of objects, each wrapped neatly in cloth to keep out the dampness. Reaching for the object on top, Sirius unwrapped it careful, his smile growing into a full on grin as he realized what it was.
"Mr. Bear! Merlin, I haven't seen this in years!" It was a dingy old teddy bear, missing one of its button eyes, its string mouth frayed and unraveled. Mr. Bear, as he had come to be called, had been given to Sirius by his grandmother Black on his second birthday. The boy had slept with the stuffed animal every night, well into his Hogwarts years, giving him up only when James and Remus had told him it was immature to keep such a childish plaything lying around. It had been hard, to give up Mr. Bear, but he had done it, and had consequently forgotten about him over the years.
Sirius's eyes were shining as he lovingly fingered the soft, worn, yellow fur, the scent of the French cologne wafting even stronger into the air, having been entrapped in the bears stuffing from years of being wallowed night after night.
Laying the bear aside, Sirius dug in again, this time pulling out a bundle of old school papers. They were mostly marks and exam results, mixed in with a few essays. Nothing out of the ordinary, most of them contained notes from teachers, comments on his brilliance yet lack of adherence for authority.
Smirking, he picked up the parchment that marked off the results of his fifth year O.W.L.S, a hand written note from Professor Minerva McGonagall scribbled across the top.
Mr. and Mrs. Black, As you
can tell by the results below, your son, Sirius, is exceptionally
bright. But I do have a few concerns that I wish to express to you.
He has, as we call it, a certain disregard for authority, and this
will not fare him well once he leaves us, and enters the work force.
We have tried, by every means necessary, to press upon him the
importance of adhering to the rules, but our attempts have been in
vain. Sirius has managed to set a school record for most consecutive
detentions served, and while this may greatly amuse him now, it won't
prove useful on a job resume.
As you can tell by the results below, your son, Sirius, is exceptionally bright. But I do have a few concerns that I wish to express to you. He has, as we call it, a certain disregard for authority, and this will not fare him well once he leaves us, and enters the work force. We have tried, by every means necessary, to press upon him the importance of adhering to the rules, but our attempts have been in vain. Sirius has managed to set a school record for most consecutive detentions served, and while this may greatly amuse him now, it won't prove useful on a job resume.
The note went on to explain his various misbehaviors, but Sirius had already lost interest, his eager hands going back into the box, pulling out something heavy and square. Anxiously he pulled the material away, his breath automatically catching his throat as the gilded edges of the photo album peeked into view.
"I can't believe she saved this," the surprised wizard whispered, the stack of papers falling from his lap as he shifted to lean against the wall, pushing the top hat up over his forehead so he could properly see. "I left it in the night stand, where I always kept it. I forgot to take it when I left…sweet Merlin."
Using the cloth to wipe away the thin layer of grime on the black leather cover, Sirius's eyes widened as he flipped open the book, memories rushing back like a herd of rampaging Hippogriffs.
It was his picture book, the most cherished of his childhood possessions, filled with photographs and drawings, bits of his life that he had long since forgotten. The first page was plain, made of heavy, cream colored, parchment, with two lines of neat and even hand writing running through the center.
The words were calligraphy, large and shining, written with thick black ink.
Property of Sirius Black
Flipping the page, along with the sheet of wax paper behind it, his eyes came to rest on a black and white photograph, the small people inside grinning up at him as the mulled around what appeared to be a party.
Immediately Sirius recognized his seven year old self, clad in a party hat, waving around a gift wrapped box. Next to him was a smaller, four year old, Regulus, who looked to be crying. It didn't take long to realize why there were tears in the younger boys eyes, as the small black and white Bellatrix was giggling and pointing gleefully, having just shoved the boy down.
Sirius had mixed feelings about the picture, not sure whether or not he wanted to laugh or scowl. So he settled for neither, and merely flipped to the next page, which was a simple portrait, taken during his first year at Hogwarts.
It was slightly shocking to see himself as an eleven year old, flashing that mischievous gap-toothed smile, trying so hard to sit up straight and not blink. He remembered the photo, very well, as it had hung above the mantel in the drawing room, at least until his mother found out he'd been sorted into Gryffindor. Then it had been stuck in the back of his closet, his family too ashamed to display it lest anyone actually lay eyes upon their backwards son.
Sighing sadly, he turned the page again, and almost kept turning, as the picture appeared empty. Only, he quickly came to see, it wasn't empty at all. What he saw made his heart practically jump into his throat, and sent his mind racing back in time, to his seventh year at Hogwarts.
Eyes focused on the photograph, which was dimly lit, he saw a slumbering Peter Pettigrew, stretched out across a sofa in the Gryffindor common room, a text book held loosely in one chubby hand. In the background, shadows were moving, tip toeing closer to the sleeping boy. It didn't take Sirius long at all to realize who they were, and exactly what they were doing.
Slowly James Potter moved into focus, an innocent smile on his face as he waved to a person off the edge of the page, beckoning them forward. Sirius then sidled into view, sniggering silently into his open palm, a bucket held in his other hand.
Somewhere off to the left, Remus Lupin was frowning at them, looking as though he were thinking about stopping them, but not actually making the move to do it.
The wizard continued to watch as the seventeen year old version of himself, embodied on the film, proceeded to dump the buckets contents over the sleeping Peter, while James ducked out of sight behind the sofa, falling to the ground with laughter.
Sirius grinned as Peter rolled from the sofa, tossing his book at Remus, who was innocent. He remembered that evening, so well. It was right after Gryffindor had won the quidditch cup. James had been so excited; the smile had remained on his face for weeks.
Turning the page again, Sirius was greeted with yet another photograph of the Marauders, and another, and other. Each one was just as wonderful as the last, and each contained a memory, a representation of some obscure, yet pivotal, moment in their lives.
The wizard didn't feel the tears prick his eyes; in fact, he didn't realize that he was crying through his smile at all until the quidditch team scattered to avoid the drops that splattered the photograph. "When did things go so wrong," Sirius whispered, using the sleeve of his robes to wipe the picture clean. "When did we start to fall apart? When did the moment come when the Marauders ceased to exist?"
He waited for the answer, almost as though he expected a whispered voice in the darkness beyond him to provide it, but none come. He very nearly shut the book, not sure if it was worth the aching he felt in his chest to go on, but he did, turning to the last page.
Sirius nearly burst into tears again as he saw the handwritten note taped onto the books inner back cover, the slanted scribe familiar to his bleared eyes. He remembered the owl that had brought it, not twenty-four hours after they'd all parted ways at the train station, their fifth year of school behind them.
It was a little hard to read James's hurried hand, but he managed it, biting down hard on his lip to hold back the choked sob begging to escape.
Sirius, Well, we've survived another year mate.
It's almost a shame though, to be back home. I'm not sure I can
sleep at night without your snoring coming from the next bed
over. I'm just kidding. Peter is the one who
snores. So, are you coming up for the summer? Mum says she'll
put up the camp bed for you, if you want to come. What am I saying;
of course you want to come! I wish you could have just come home with
me off the train, but mum says that wouldn't be polite, and that we
ought to at least ask your parents first. I wanted to tell her
that's a rubbish idea, and that you'd probably prefer to come
home with us any day, but I reckon she might smack me, and I'm
really not keen on getting knocked around the head. Well,
I better start unpacking my trunk. She'll pitch a right fit if I
leave it on the hall. Mothers. Always complaining. Don't
forget to ask about coming, the sooner the better I reckon. Miss
you, and can't wait to see you (quidditch all
Well, we've survived another year mate. It's almost a shame though, to be back home. I'm not sure I can sleep at night without your snoring coming from the next bed over.
I'm just kidding.
Peter is the one who snores.
So, are you coming up for the summer? Mum says she'll put up the camp bed for you, if you want to come. What am I saying; of course you want to come! I wish you could have just come home with me off the train, but mum says that wouldn't be polite, and that we ought to at least ask your parents first.
I wanted to tell her that's a rubbish idea, and that you'd probably prefer to come home with us any day, but I reckon she might smack me, and I'm really not keen on getting knocked around the head.
Well, I better start unpacking my trunk. She'll pitch a right fit if I leave it on the hall. Mothers. Always complaining.
Don't forget to ask about coming, the sooner the better I reckon.
Miss you, and can't wait to see you (quidditch all summer!)
Not two weeks after the letter had arrived, had Sirius left Grimmauld Place for the last time, never to return while his family still lived beneath its roof.
Closing the book, he quickly began packing all of the things back into the tattered old box, sealing it shut with his wand. Standing up, Sirius dusted off his robes, arranging everything back to the way it had been when he'd arrived.
The sun had long since moved across the sky, the window now dark as the sky outside grew soft and purple. He'd wasted the better part of the afternoon up here, relieving his childhood.
As he moved back towards the door, pulling off the hat and tossing it aside, his mind still lingered with the contents of the old box, and the time in his life represented in its contents. He had been innocent then, still a child, who had no idea of what was to come. Just like James, and Remus, and Peter had no idea where their lives were heading either. Peter could never have known that he would someday betray his best friends, and Remus could have never foreseen the many hardships that befall his path through life.
And James…Jamie…Sirius's best mate in the entire world, had no idea that his life, which had so much promise, would end entirely too soon.
Sirius cast one last look over his shoulder, vowing to find the maps in the morning, before pulling the door too, jerking it hard to force it back into place. Starting back down the sagging steps, he tried vehemently to clear his mind, to erase the images of his friends, but he couldn't do it, and he knew exactly why.
The Marauders were always with him, residing somewhere in the back of his mind, and those photographs, those old papers, the familiar scents, had all brought them back out in full force. For as much as Sirius tried to deny it, each and every one of them, Peter included, had played a large influence in what he had become. They had taught him the value of friendship, and of promise. They had taught him how to live life a day at a time, and to squeeze every ounce of vivacity from every moment.
Unsure though he was about why his mother had placed that box there in the first place, Sirius was silently thanking her. No matter what her intent may have been, she had done him a great deal of good in a time when he'd desperately needed it. He could stick this out and he could prove his worth by whatever means necessary. He had to admit it: He had entered the attic bitter and spiteful, but his old picture book and the memories it withheld turned all that around. Because of that one book, he now knew exactly what his purpose and place was in this war. He remembered just what they were fighting for: Freedom, friendship, and loyalty, because without them, there was nothing worth fighting for at all.