Author's Note: Due to beta-reader-problems I can't update my other stories as often as I'd like to, so I decided to start a new one. It's a bit different from what I normally write, more original, I hope to think.
Warning: This story does not contain slash (I was tempted to make it into another slash story but I think it works just as well - or even better - without any romance). But you could always read it as implied slash if you want to. Also, I'm not so sure about the rating yet. Parts of it are pretty disturbing (at least to me - it's something between child abuse and racism) but I don't intend to write graphic violent scenes. I want it to be more subtle. If you feel it should rather be rated M, please tell me. Last warning: This story is not beta-ed and therefore might contain a few mistakes. I do my best but if you spot any mistakes, feel free to correct me!
Disclaimer: Everything recognisable belongs to J. K. Rowling.
The Worst Birthday
Who would have ever thought that spilling a few drops of pumpkin juice could have such horrible consequences? Sirius and Regulus did it every so often – such things simply happened. Their mother would chastise them and maybe give them a little slap but that was all. Lulu, however, got much, much worse than a little slap.
Lulu was the house-elf of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. She had already served Sirius and Regulus' grandparents, and she was known for being utterly devoted to her family. The devotion was one-sided.
It was at Sirius' sixth birthday that Lulu spilled pumpkin juice on Mrs. Malfoy's new, expensive, white dress robe. Sirius, Regulus, Cissy and the other children were highly amused because of Mrs. Malfoy's indignant squeak and Walburga Black's frantic apologies. It was a very welcome change to the stiff and boring atmosphere at the 'party.' The funniest thing, of course, was when Orion Black told the house-elf to choke herself as punishment and she did it until her huge eyes popped out of her head. It was just too hilarious! Really, how could you be so stupid to choke yourself just because someone told you to?
Finally, Orion Black told Lulu to stop choking herself and get into the kitchen and put her hands in the oven. The party was more amusing from that point onwards because the children had gotten the wonderful idea to play 'house-elf and owner' (one child was the house-elf and had to do all the crazy things the other children told them to do).
The grownups, however, did not think the incident funny in the least.
"I've told you thousands of times we need a new house-elf!" Walburga ranted accusingly as soon as the last guest had left the house. "How embarrassing! In front of the Malfoys and the Notts! What will they think of us? The Blacks, can't even afford a decent house-elf!"
"Please calm down, you're going to wake up the children," her husband said in a more levelled voice.
"Orion," she hissed warningly. "Do you want the wizarding world to look down on us?"
"Listen, I've told you before: The prices for house-elves are ridiculously high at the moment."
"So it's true then," she snapped. "The Blacks really can't afford even a house-elf."
"Walburga, we already have one house-elf -"
"One house-elf is hardly enough for a house like ours!" she exploded again.
"Let's just wait a few months. The goblins speculate that the prices will sink again after the Christmas holidays."
"Christmas holidays? I can't wait three more months! And we can't celebrate Christmas with only one house-elf."
"We could always rent a house-elf from Comet Catering for the holidays."
Walburga Black snorted. "I won't sink that low. That would be like that Zabini whore who just pretends she's wealthy."
"Don't you think it could be possible for Lulu to recover if Healer Cabbledot gave her a few injections again?" Orion Black suggested cautiously.
"It's hopeless! Hopeless! Lulu is old, much too old for a house-elf. It's not the first time something like that happened – no, last month she forgot to clean the bust on the second floor and just three days ago she dropped a silver goblet." She ignored the fact that the silver goblet had not broken. It was a matter of principle.
"Very well, then…" Orion gave a long-suffering sigh. "I'm going to ask Prewett tomorrow. He always knows where you get high quality elves."
A brief satisfied smile crossed Walburga Black's thin lips. "Come to think of it, maybe we don't need to buy a new house-elf, after all. Actually, I have another idea." It was as if she had directed the whole conversation to this point and had now finally reached her goal. She strode over to the massive oak desk and pulled a leaflet out of the top drawer.
Mildly interested, her husband took the piece of parchment to read it. While his sharp grey eyes darted back and forth over the parchment, the crease between his brows deepened more and more. Finally he looked up again.
"You can't be serious, Walburga," he said in disbelief. "You want one of those…half-breeds in our house?!"
Obviously offended, Mrs. Black pursed her lips. "I heard Mrs. Flint and Mrs. Bulstrode talking about it at Twilfit & Tatting's. Apparently it's very en vogue today to own a werewolf."
"Is it, now?" Orion Black considered it for a moment. It was a very good argument. And Mrs. Flint was always up-to-date.
"Just think about it: It's so much cheaper than a house-elf," she tried to coax him. "All we have to do is go to the Department of the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, fill in a few forms to convince them we're a 'responsible and respectable family' – ha, as if that was a problem! And if it is a problem, silver works always wonders. Well, and then we can choose our werewolf and bring it home."
"But isn't it a bit dangerous? Sirius and Regulus would never stand a chance if it attacked them."
"We can choose a young one, and of course we have to buy a safe cage for it to transform in."
Orion nodded slowly. It made sense. It was a really good idea. He took the old sword from its place at the wall, and drew the long and rusty blade out of the sheath that was embroidered with emeralds.
"Lulu!" he called the old house-elf.
"Lulu!" Sirius, who lay in his bed, called too. He had a really painful stomach-ache from all the cream gateau he had eaten today. Yes, all the adults had told him he would get stomach-ache if he did not stop after his third slice of cake but he had had to eat in advance because they would not get cream gateau again till Regulus' fifth birthday and that was still a looong time to go.
Sirius groaned and squirmed under his thick blankets. Why didn't the old house-elf come? He was in desperate need of a hot water bottle and one of Lulu's special herbal teas which helped ease the pain – and which, surprisingly, also tasted nice enough.
"Lulu!" Sirius called again, louder this time. (Although it didn't make a difference with house-elves: They only heard the strength of the order, not the volume of the voice.)
Stupid, slow, unreliable house-elves – letting him suffer here like this! Oh, he would tell Lulu to put her hands in the oven as punishment, yes, every single finger!
Reluctantly, Sirius decided to call Kreacher instead. He did not like the younger house-elf very much. Kreacher always favoured Regulus: If they ordered food or something to drink, Kreacher would always serve Regulus first and give him the better chocolate bar or the bigger cauldron cake. Lulu, however, served Sirius first, which really was his privilege, naturally, as he was the firstborn.
At long last, the house-elf appeared in Sirius' room. He bowed deeply and said, "Good evening, Master Sirius. Kreacher is at your service."
"I've got stomach-ache," Sirius sniffed between his most miserable whimpers.
"Kreacher is so sorry, Master Sirius," Kreacher said, his squeaky voice dripping with (probably false) pity. "Could Kreacher bring Master Sirius a potion to make it better?"
"No! I don't want a potion! I want Lulu-tea! Where is Lulu?"
"Lulu is on a plaque now," Kreacher explained nervously.
"On a plaque? What's that supposed to mean? Why doesn't she come if I call her?"
"Lulu can't come anymore. Lulu is on a plaque now, Lulu is there with the other house-elves."
"If you don't stop lying, I'll tell you to jump out of the window and break all your bones, your arms, yours legs, your head, your neck, ears, fingers, toes, teeth, nose, eyes…" Sirius took a deep breath and moaned again when his stomach crammed convulsively. "I'm not stupid. I know that the house-elves at the wall aren't real. They can't speak."
"Lulu can't speak anymore either." Kreacher's ears drooped sadly when he said that.
Sirius finally gave up. The pain in his stomach was too much to wonder about the house-elves' disobedient behaviour.
"Bring me the potion, then," he said sullenly. "And drop the biggest cauldron on your toes!" he added as an afterthought. Served the stupid elf right!
The next day, Sirius' stomach-ache had gone. But he had not forgotten that Lulu had abandoned him in his hour of need.
"Mum, Lulu didn't come last night when I called her," Sirius informed his mother during breakfast. "I called her very, very often and she didn't come."
"Well, Sirius, she was a very old house-elf," his mother began but Sirius interrupted her.
"But I had stomach-ache and I needed Lulu-tea but she didn't come."
"You must punish her," Regulus chimed in.
"Yes, very, very much," Sirius affirmed. They started coming up with very creative ideas for punishment until their father said, "What you need to understand, boys, is that Lulu cannot serve us anymore."
"Why? Is she ill?" Regulus asked, chewing his lower lip in worry.
"No. She is too old. She has gone. She will never come back."
"But you can tell her to come back," Sirius said impatiently. "She has to come back if you tell her to come back." He was not worried in the slightest. His father could make everyone do what he wanted them to do.
"No, she really can't come back anymore," his mother said. "She's dead."
"Dead?" Sirius echoed the odd word that he had sometimes heard in Lulu's fairytales. But only the monsters and the Muggles died in her stories… It did not make sense because Lulu was one of the good ones. How could she be dead?
"Half-dead or undead or real dead?" Regulus asked and Sirius suddenly had a sinking feeling in his stomach. What if Lulu had been bitten by a vampire?
"Really dead," their mother specified.
"Okay," Sirius mumbled and continued eating his scrambled eggs in silence.
"Mum?" Regulus' small voice finally broke the silence. "What does it mean?"
"It means Lulu is gone."
"When will she come back?" Sirius asked nonchalantly.
"She won't come back," his father said. "She is not there anymore. She's gone."
"Yeah but when will she come back to us?" Regulus asked nervously, his lips trembling.
"Regulus, why can't you understand that she will not come back!" their father said harshly.
Sirius' fork clattered down on his plate. "But she has to come back!" he said defiantly.
Thump! Their father's fist thudded hard on the table. "Lulu. Will. Not. Come. Back. Never."
"Wha-What?!" Regulus spluttered. Sirius felt sick again and his throat constricted painfully.
"Regulus, don't talk with food in your mouth!" his mother rebuked him.
Regulus choked. "But I want Lulu back," he said in a whining voice, and choked again.
"Yeah, me too," Sirius backed up his little brother. "I want Lulu back, too."
"We will buy a new house-elf," their mother said. "Or even something better than a house-elf."
"But I don't want a new house-elf!" Sirius angrily stabbed his knife into his bacon. There was no replacement for Lulu. No one else could make the wonderful Lulu-tea. No one else could tell such creepy bedtime stories that made him hide under his blanket together with Regulus. No one else had always been there for him, had come to him in the middle of the night when he had had a bad dream or stomach-ache.
Unexpectedly, Regulus slid down from his chair and darted out of the kitchen. A few moments later, a long piercing scream echoed through the house. Sirius jumped up now, too, and made to follow Regulus. His younger brother stood transfixed on the first step of the dark staircase that led upstairs. His eyes were wide open and held a look of utter horror.
"Regulus?" asked their mother, who came out of the kitchen now, too, to see what was wrong.
"It's Lulu," Regulus whispered, his lips barely moving, his eyes glued to a spot at the wall.
Sirius followed his gaze and when he saw whose head had joined the row of shrunken heads mounted on plaques on the wall, he screamed, too.
Sirius and Regulus had barricaded themselves in Sirius' room. They did not want to see their parents again. Ever. They wanted to stay in this room forever and then their terrible parents would finally miss them and regret everything they had done. Ha, let them suffer! They deserved it!
"Sirius?" Regulus whispered after a long silence in which he had hugged his favourite stuffed animal, a light blue dragon, tightly to his chest and Sirius had tidied up his room to distract himself.
"Yes?" Sirius whispered back.
"Do you… Do you think the other… heads… Do you think they were… Do you think they could speak and walk and eat once, too?"
"I… I don't know." Sirius' heart hammered faster and faster, he was sure it would jump out of his chest any minute. And he accidentally bit his tongue in his panic. "I hate them," he said just to say something. He had already said it dozens of times. "I hate Mum and Dad. I really, really hate them."
"I really, really hate them, too," Regulus dutifully agreed with his older brother.
"And we will never talk to them again," Sirius made a grim vow.
"Never," Regulus emphasized.
But it was hard to stick to that vow of silence. In the evening, their stomachs rumbling, they decided to leave Sirius' room to eat dinner. It was hard to keep silent when you ate together with someone and were asked questions and threatened with punishment if you didn't answer.
Regulus kept it up through dinner, he did not wish his parents goodnight and he did not ask them all the fearful questions that troubled him. He spent the night in the cellar with Kreacher, who explained everything about his dead mother who was stuck on a plaque now. The next morning, Regulus broke. The silence was driving him crazy. He asked his Mum to pass him the pumpkin juice during breakfast.
Now it was only Sirius who adamantly kept to his self-imposed vow. But it was hard for a little boy, who had just turned six years old, to be forbidden to speak to anyone. He made it through lunch and dinner but before nighttime, he could not take it anymore. Swallowing back his tears, he told his parents, "I hate you. And I'm going to bed now."
They were on speaking terms again. One week later, Sirius even stopped hating them. Things were almost back to normal. But when Sirius and Regulus used the staircase now that was lined with the shrunken house-elf heads, they would always avert their gaze and press their eyes tightly shut when they hurriedly ran past them. And put both hands over their eyes, too, to be absolutely sure that they did not see what was there.
Author's Note: Well, what do you think? Promising start or boring? Please let me know :-) I hope that you thought my portrayal of young Sirius and Regulus was believable and that you enjoyed the cosy atmosphere of the Black household. You'll see Remus in the next chapter!