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Overall Summary: Sirius Black. How many memories two such simple words could trigger. How much pain, and joy. How much disappointment. How much conflict and fear. How many decisions and actions. Why him?
"Why her?" he asked. The name had felt familiar at first, though he hadn't been able to place it then. He could now.
Only a smirk from the man answered Sirius's question, and with another snap of his fingers, the wizard disappeared. Sirius, now left alone in the dark alleyway, glanced at the parchment for a third time, the name bringing forth memories long-since forgotten for the dark-haired Animagus.
Authors' Note: Once again, we would like to thank CA (Cinderella Angelina) of MNFF for being a wonderful guide throughout this Gauntlet run, and also Rachel (lily-evans34), also of MNFF, for beta-ing this part as well. (And again, a quick reminder on who wrote what: Tonks was written by Sunray (guiding ray of sunlight), while Sirius was written by me (ForeverSirius77).) Now, we again present for your enjoyment, Part II of A Bloody Deal, entitled, Meetings and Answers.
A Bloody Deal
By ForeverSirius77 & guiding ray of sunlight (of MNFF)
Part II: Meetings and Answers
A sliver of light catches your attention. You figure it's a piece of metal, but realise that there is nothing for it to be reflecting off of in the dark alley. Leaning forward to pick it up, you hear a soft mutter and a flash of green light above your head. You duck quickly, and roll so you end up on you feet; you turn to face the attacker, wand extended.
How had you allowed yourself to lose concentration? Of course this person had been able to sneak up on you! Swallowing a bitter mouthful of curses, you cast a quick Lumos.
Your stomach drops. Sirius Black is standing before you, wand extended. But he isn't shooting. He is looking at you peculiarly, his head cocked to the side like a puppy's.
"What the bloody hell was that for?" you explode. Your wand remains directed at his chest.
His brows furrow. "That wasn't aimed at you," he states. You snort in spite of yourself. Did he truly think you were that gullible? He was a convicted mass-murderer! He senses your disbelief. "Look behind you," he suggests.
"Why? Is one of your friends back there? Or do you just want to distract me so you can send another curse at me, without my putting up a struggle?"
He sighs exasperatedly. "Here." He lowers his wand. "Keep your wand pointed at me, if you like. Just a quick glance."
"So you can, in that brief second, shoot me with a spell?" Habit keeps you going, but doubt is gnawing at your brain. What if he was being truthful before? What if he hadn't killed all those people? "My mother used to tell me stories about how quick you were with a wand. You could do it with ease."
"Must my past always haunt me?" Sirius asks. You can tell he is not referring only to the reference you had just made, and the pain is shining softly in his eyes. But he drops his wand to the dust. "Be quick about it though. There may be more of those pests around."
Turning your head quickly, you see a dead Runespoor on the floor. You turn back to Sirius. "It was about to bite you," he states plainly. "I just came here to talk."
"Oh, indeed?" You raise your brows. "What would a mass murderer and traitor have to say to me? I should have arrested you by now."
"I'm well aware of that." Anger darkens his face. "But I didn't do what they say I did. I was never the Potters' Secret Keeper, and I never killed anyone. It was Peter; it's always been Peter. He framed me for all of it - the betrayal, the murders, everything. Yes, I followed him, and yes, I planned to kill him -- but not because I was some loyal Death Eater. He'd betrayed everything and caused the deaths of two of my best friends. What other reason did I need?"
"A likely story," you force yourself to say despite the evident pain on his face. The sincerity. But it was what any person would do in an attempt to clear their name. You have to stay objective. He is a Dark Wizard, and it is your job to put him back in Azkaban.
But the Death Eaters wanted him dead, too. How did the two parts combine? And if he were innocent, or even if he had just now refused to work for You-Know-Who, didn't the Ministry owe him protection?
"Very well, then. Call your supervisor – Kingsley Shacklebolt, isn't it?" He growls it out, sounding like a hunting dog. How does he know Kingsley? And why doesn't he care if he's caught, aside from the fact that he knows how to weasel his way out of jail? "But first, I need to warn you. Someone wants you dead. Badly. They are willing to pay one hundred thousand galleons to get it done. Any ideas why that might be?" He looks at me, and beyond the seriousness, and the hurt, I can see the same look he used to give me when I was seven. But it is faded, dulled. Everything about him is. He is thin, and ragged, and overgrown.
He is no longer a care-free boy. He is a hunted, worn, and old man. He has spent twelve years – over a third of his life – in jail. And what if he didn't do it? Then hasn't he been punished enough for something he had never done? Hasn't he suffered enough for being nothing but a loyal friend?
"Easy. I'm an Auror. A numerous amount of Dark Wizards want me dead. And it's them with the Dark Magic that tend to have the money." He nods at my answer. Something shines in his eyes. Pride?
"An Auror? That's great. Your mother has taught you well." Then he sighs. "But before you call Shacklebolt, just know that Dumbledore believes what you called a likely story. He knows it's true. Don't you trust Dumbledore?"
Torn with guilt, you can't look into his eyes. "It's not my decision to make. I can't let a Dark Wizard be free. Let alone a person who is believed to be a murderer."
He smiles grimly. "'Believed to be' are the key words in that sentence."
Smiling slightly in spite of yourself, you cast a quick Patronus. The bird flies away quickly. It is what Kingsley told you to do if you found something of interest. And Sirius Black, unfortunately, was something of interest.
"And now we wait." You keep your wand pointed at him, although you are not so sure anymore that he is a threat.
A few seconds later, Kingsley Apparates with a loud crack. He stands between you and Sirius, his back to your cousin.
"What do you think?" Kingsley asks, but the question is not directed at you.
"I trust her." The unexpected answer comes from Sirius.
"Relax, Tonks." Kingsley says. "You can lower your wand. Black is not a Death Eater."
"I've figured that much out. But how do you know?" You want to know what's going on. And you want to know now.
"Did your mother ever mention a secret Order, from the first war against Voldemort?"
It sparks a memory immediately. "The Order of the Phoenix?"
Kingsley nods, and hands you a sealed envelope. Inside, in level handwriting you can recognize from somewhere, it says that the Order of the Phoenix has been reborn, and that they are doing all they can to stop Voldemort.
You hand the parchment back to Kingsley, who burns it with a flick of his wand.
"So he's really back?" Kingsley and Sirius both nod. "Of course, that makes more sense than Dumbledore being off his rocker."
Kingsley chuckles, sounding a lot like Santa Claus. The imagery nearly sends you into a giggle fit. And that's how you know you are overly tired, you muse. You quickly get yourself in check. "What exactly happened here, by the way?" Kingsley asks, glancing at the snake. "And how did the meeting go? That was actually more Order business than Ministry business," he states when he sees you glancing subconsciously at Sirius.
Speaking quickly, you tell him what had happened since you had left the Ministry. When you reach the part about the shining light, he stops you. "What was it?" he asks.
"I'm not sure," you admit. You go over to the spot, and gently brush away some of the dirt.
The shining object is a ring. And it is attached to a skeletal hand.
He had barely taken but two steps from his hiding place when he saw it. Grey eyes once again piercing instantly through the heavy shadows enveloping the alley, Sirius saw the slithering Runespoor on the ground just a small ways from where his cousin sat – and she was leaning towards it, surely without realising it.
Damn it, he thought as he raised his wand, knowing his actions were going to make their coming meeting that much more difficult. Pointing the tip of the ebony wood at the serpent, Sirius hissed a quick "Avada Kedavra", and a green jet of light shot through the air, impacting the snake and killing it. He saw Dora turn away from the spell – although, in reality, he knew it had had no chance of hitting the witch; he'd made sure of that when he'd cast it – and cast a quick Lumos.
A strong urge seized Sirius to greet his cousin with a grinning, "Hey, Dora. How've you been?" But he'd barely had the chance to open his mouth before she'd already spoken – well, yelled would be a more apt term.
"What the bloody hell was that for?"
Confusion held Sirius for the briefest of moments, yet when he actually realised that she thought the spell was planned for her, Sirius could barely hold back from laughing. But such an act, he knew, wouldn't play out well.
"That wasn't aimed at you," he said, consciously using the majority of his will-power not to smile. He kept his stare on his cousin, telling her to look toward where the snake was.
Unfortunately for Sirius, however, Nymphadora seemed to have inherited certain characteristics from her mother that always sought to drive Sirius mad. A constant stubbornness and an incessant need to question everything that was told.
Sighing, he brought his wand back to his side, realising that perhaps the fact of a 'mad mass murderer' pointing a wand in her direction was a greater cause for the witch's refusal to turn around. "Just take a quick glance," he said.
Yet, young Nymphadora Tonks still refused to turn around and look at the ground. At least, she refused until he'd completely dropped his wand at his feet. Evidently it was enough to ensure her that he wasn't about to kill her.
"I just came here to talk," he said when she turned back to face him, having seen the now-dead snake on the dirty ground. He didn't reach back for his wand, though a part of him longed to have it in his grasp once again.
"Oh, indeed? What would a mass murderer and traitor have to say to me? I should have arrested you by now."
Sirius's hands clenched into fist, the anger only slightly held at bay. After all, it wasn't her fault that everyone believed what they did. "I'm well aware of that," he spat, before reining his temper in enough to get out the story, to tell the same explanation once again. He was definitely tired of having to go over the same haunted, painful territory so many times.
He watched the expressions play out on Dora's face, watched as her eyes widened and teeth bit her lip for a second. He watched as she blinked, swallowed, and shook her head, as if she couldn't believe what she was hearing. Yeah, he'd seen that reaction before.
"A likely story."
Sirius sighed, the exhaling breath long and heavy. He shook his own head this time. She was too much like her mother, too stubborn to listen to anything other than what she knew to be the truth. And it wasn't helping matters that Sirius was exhausted; it had been a long day, followed by a night that seemed to never end.
"Fine," he growled, not realising at the time that the tone made him sound more like the dangerous convict he was supposed to be. He told her to contact Kingsley, Dumbledore having already assured him the Order member knew that he was innocent. But, damn it all, he'd come out to talk to his cousin – to warn her – and he was going to do just that.
He hadn't expected her to tell him that she was an Auror.
"That's great," he muttered, his mind not so much on the current conversation as it had been earlier. Memories were once again running through his head, memories of a time nearly fifteen years ago, when he'd stopped by Andromeda's one night after leaving the Ministry.
"So, how's the training going, Sirius?" asked Andromeda, handing over a drink to the dark-haired man at her table. The two Blacks were sitting together in the Tonks' dining room, a young Nymphadora playing in the nearby room.
Sirius shrugged as he took a sip. "Fine, I guess," he said. "Although, I've been thinking, Andy – and don't start." Sirius cut himself off and glared at the older woman sitting across from him, the grin on her face clear that a teasing comment had been on the tip of her tongue. "I don't know … It might be better to put more time in the Order, you know? And then pick up the training again if things calm down any."
Andromeda sighed. "Well, you know, Sirius," she started. "Wars don't last forever, and there's nothing that says you can't go back to the Aurors later."
"Wha's a 'uror?"
Both Sirius and Andromeda looked up at the little girl standing in the doorway, her short hair a vibrant pink. She didn't remain standing there for long, however, before she ran over to Sirius, who pulled the little girl onto his lap. "Wha's a' 'uror?" she repeated, looking back and forth between her mother and cousin.
"It's a good wizard who catches the bad ones," said Andromeda.
"Oh," nodded Dora, like she'd just been told the answer to life itself. "Is tat wha' Si'us is?"
Sirius smiled. "I'm working on it," he answered.
Another nod came from the little girl that he held before she opened her mouth and proclaimed, "I wan' be a 'uror. When I ge' big, I wan' be a 'uror."
Sirius shook his head free from the memory; he had no idea if the twenty-something-year-old witch in front of him remembered telling him she would grow up to be just what she was.
"— a person who is believed to be a murderer."
Yeah, he thought, a grim smile forming. "'Believed to be' are the key words in that sentence."
He watched as she fired off a Patronus, though it disappeared too quickly for him to make out its exact form. It wasn't long, however, before Kingsley showed up, asking what he thought.
"I trust her," said Sirius, his gaze still on Dora as she continued holding her wand pointing at his chest. The desire to laugh – or at the very least grin – continued growing stronger.
His attention didn't remain on the pair of Aurors for long, though. He knew, of course, that Kingsley was telling Dora about the Order, that his cousin was telling the senior Auror about whatever-it-was she was supposed to be telling him about. It was all background noise to the dark-haired wizard.
The longer he stood in the alleyway, the more off things started to feel to him. There was just something that wasn't right, something that they were missing. Yet he didn't know what, exactly, it was. Sirius's eyes swept the alley, his gaze piercing the thick shadows, and his stare settled on the glinting metal a split second before the Aurors' conversation reached that point.
He made to step towards it, but his cousin was one move ahead of him. Sirius watched as she approached the spot where the light had come from, only a few inches from the body of the dead Runespoor. He watched as she revealed the skeletal hand.
And he cursed.
Both Aurors instantly turned their attention from the body at their feet to face Sirius, the foul words stringing together to the point where many were undistinguishable.
"Do you know who this is, Sirius?" asked Kingsley.
Sirius nodded. "It's Jack Benson," he said. He was met with two blank faces. "An old … acquaintance. I was supposed to meet him tonight, for Dumbledore. It's the whole reason I was even here at all."
Sirius glanced down at the body again. The face was unmarked, the eyes shut and mouth relaxed, looking like Jack had just fallen asleep. His arms were crossed over his chest, the ring that had caught all of their attention on his left hand.
Kingsley stood back up from where he'd knelt next to Jack. "His body is cold," he muttered, and the dark-skinned man directed his black gaze at Sirius once again. "You say you were supposed to meet him tonight?"
"Yeah," answered Sirius. "Dumbledore said he'd talked to Jack, told him everything that had happened, and I was going to meet him before heading to Remus's."
"That can't be right."
"And why's that?"
"Because there are several spells on this body, and one of them masks smells." Kingsley paused, and Sirius understood. "That man's been dead for at least a week."
How did Dumbledore miss that?
"Sirius, you ended up meeting someone else – I heard. Who was it?" Biting your lip, you don't notice the glances you are receiving from the men as your hair begins turning bubblegum pink.
He clears his throat. "I don't know. But like I said earlier, somebody wants you dead." He hands you a piece of parchment. On it, your name is scrawled in red ink. The handwriting is familiar. You've seen it before. You've …
You pull out the piece of parchment the mysterious 'He' had handed you. On it, Sirius's name is scrawled in the same handwriting.
You clench your jaw. This mystery guy – the Death Eater – wanted you both dead. But he was trying to stay anonymous. You look up at Sirius.
His eyes are dark in the beginning, and then something sparks, and he swears loudly.
"Bloody Pureblood scum!" he yells, and his fist hits the stone wall. He looks so angry that you become slightly intimidated. Despite the fact that you are fairly certain he truly is innocent, years of habit kick in, and you have to fight hard not to slowly back away.
Kingsley, while he does not look scared, does look as confused as you feel. "Which scum would that be?" Before he even fully finishes the sentence, realization strikes him. He, too, curses. "But wouldn't you recognize your cousin?" he inquires.
And then you realize why Sirius is so upset. Your aunt Bella - as you mother had always referred to her older sister. You've seen snippets of her handwriting before, in your mother's old things. And she'd sworn a vendetta against your mother, when she had run off to marry a Muggleborn. She evidently must have done the same to Sirius, which would make sense, because he was the first Black to rebel against family traditions – and become a Gryffindor. The relationship between him and Bella would be even worse than they were between her and Mum.
"Then Mum isn't safe either," you state plaintively. You are unwilling to show the cold dread that is spreading in your chest due to the threat to your mother.
"Probably not," Sirius says slowly. "Bella wanted to hurt her by getting us to kill each other. Unfortunately for her, she misjudged me. Again. And as far as why I didn't recognise her, that's easy. She didn't come herself; it was a messenger …" He pauses, musing. "But there are only two people I can think of that she'd send, and unless there's been another break-out from Azkaban that I don't know about, it can't be Rodolphus or Rabastan. My guess, then, would probably be another relative." He chuckles hollowly, then becomes serious. "We still need to find out how they managed to fool Dumbledore, though."
Kingsley nods solemnly. "We need to find a place where we can all meet and discuss. And not in a place as exposed as this." Sirius opens his mouth to object, but Kingsley cuts him off. "I know the town in asleep, but the Death Eaters may not be."
"The Shack then?" Sirius suggests. Kingsley nods. Sirius picks up his wand, and, so quickly that you have trouble finding the seam between the spells, casts a Patronus and Disapparates. With a nod to Kingsley, you follow your cousin.
Seconds later, you are in the shack, for the first time since your graduation. Back then, you had thought it was appropriate to say goodbye to Hogsmeade the old fashioned way – by facing your demons. So as soon as you were legally an adult, you had Apparated into the shack.
And had discovered it was not all that haunted after all.
But now, Apparating into the same room as you had six years ago, you see it has changed- the claw marks are still there, and the sofas are still torn. But there are blast marks in the wall, too. They hadn't been there before.
With a loud crack, another person arrives in the room. But it isn't Kingsley. You raise your wand quickly and aim it at the scarred face. And then realization sinks in.
"Remus Lupin?" you ask. But it is rhetorical. You know the answer already.
You can remember, how years ago, when Sirius used to visit, he used to bring friends along sometimes. James Potter, usually. Or sometimes Remus. You remember how even then you had noticed how ragged he looked. But he always had a kind smile for you.
And after Sirius had been arrested, he had come a couple more times. And you had climbed onto his lap, and asked him where Sirius was.
The pain in his eyes back then had nothing to do with the scars that adorned his face.
Now, he looks even more ragged than he had back then. But some of the pain, a small fraction, is gone. You realise how much he missed Sirius. How hurt he must have been to think that Sirius was a traitor.
How much devotion it must have taken to come over to visit you and your mother.
To try to offer some of the comfort he didn't feel.
"Nymphadora?" he asks, shocked. "Nymphadora Tonks?" You nod slowly. A small smile upturns the corners of his mouth. "I see you still wear your hair pink," he states.
You grin at him, but a blush creeps into your cheeks. "Old habits die hard," you say.
"That they do," a voice from the doorway says. Sirius walks in and embraces Remus, Kingsley right behind him.
Another crack announces a fifth arrival. Professor Albus Dumbledore enters the room. His eyes are kind and troubled as he looks at you, and then at Sirius. "If Jack is dead," he says slowly, "I must have met with a Death Eater yesterday. Which means – our security measures are not sufficient. We must find new headquarters. And we must be doubly careful who we trust. I have discussed some of this with Alastor, and –"
"I have an idea," Sirius states as a grim smile creeps onto his lips.
"—and one of them masks smells."
The instant that the words had left Kingsley's mouth, Sirius understood. So many pieces started to immediately come together in his head; everything was slowly – but surely – beginning to make sense. And if Jack had been dead that long, then this entire meeting had been nothing but a set-up … Yet there was still the question of why – and who – and how.
He tried to think back to the mysterious wizard, tried to figure out who he'd been. There had been something about the man that seemed vaguely familiar, he thought, yet he couldn't recall ever meeting him before. The wizard's voice hadn't sparked any recognition for Sirius, and identifying someone by being 'tall' and 'thin' wasn't a great amount of information to go on. Hell, Sirius himself could be described as being 'tall' and 'thin'.
So lost in his thoughts he was, that Sirius barely caught Dora asking him that very question: who did he meet?
"I don't know," said Sirius. He shoved his hands in his pockets, his fingers coming in contact with the piece of parchment the wizard had given him earlier that night. It was, after all, the only concrete thing he had from the guy. Instantly, he pulled it back out and handed it over to the others.
"But like I said earlier," he said, glancing towards his cousin as she read the words on the parchment. "Someone wants you dead."
He hadn't been expecting her to reveal a similar note, only with his name and written in green.
And suddenly, the answers came. The light went on; the puzzle pieces finally connected. The picture was complete. Why he hadn't been able to figure everything out earlier, Sirius didn't know, but the reasons weren't important. He knew now.
"Bloody Pureblood scum!" he exclaimed, one hand crumpling the parchment letters while the other formed a fist and connected with the pub's outer wall. A brief bit of pain shot up his arm at the contact, but he didn't care. Nothing was permanently damaged or broken, and that was all that mattered. Anger coursed through his veins, anger whose intensity he rarely felt so strongly. He wanted nothing more than to find the ones responsible for this entire set-up and slowly but surely ensure that they never drew another breath again.
"—wouldn't you recognise your cousin?"
Sirius snorted, barely holding in a laugh. Oh, he knew he'd be able to recognise Bella – if not by appearance, he'd definitely know her by voice. Though he'd only managed to see her for one brief time in more than a decade, he'd heard her talking enough in all that time. Be it screamed shouts or muttered whispers, he'd heard her. His eyes closed and Sirius shook his head to banish the dark thoughts and memories that sought precedence.
Oh, yes, he'd recognise her … but it hadn't been Bella herself – it couldn't have been Bella. And yet, regardless of the fact that she was still in Azkaban, that hadn't stopped her from managing to plan and arrange this.
"Then Mum isn't safe either."
Dora's voice tore Sirius from his thoughts, bringing his attention back to the conversation. She had just put one of the last pieces into place, though Sirius didn't know if she understood the gravity of what she had said. The reason why all of this had happened. Or one of them, anyway. Sirius doubted that Bella did all of this for just one purpose. "Probably not," he said slowly, shaking his head. Yet something still wasn't sitting completely right with Sirius; there was still a small piece that was missing.
"Bella wanted to hurt her by getting us to kill each other. But unfortunately for her, she misjudged me. Again." And yet, even as he spoke through the explanation, that damn piece continued to elude him. "And as far as why I didn't recognise her, that's easy. She didn't come herself; it was a messenger …"
There it was. The main piece that had been constantly just out of his mind's grasp. The identity of the messenger.
"But there are only two people I can think of that she'd send, and unless there's been another break-out from Azkaban that I don't know about, it can't be Rodolphus or Rabastan." Sirius glanced up at the two Aurors, though neither gave any indication that a break-out had occurred. "My guess, then, would probably be another relative." So, he thought, we still don't know who exactly, but the why is answered at least. And there's still the question of how.
"We still need to find out how they managed to fool Dumbledore, though."
Upon agreeing to continue the conversation in the Shrieking Shack, Sirius quickly fired off a Patronus to Remus, not staying around long enough to watch the silver dog disappear before he Disapparated and arrived just outside the run-down building on the outskirts of Hogsmeade. He stood for a moment, his eyes wandering over the wooden structure that played such a major role in so many of his childhood memories. Rarely did he and the others look at it from the outside – they'd always left and entered the Shack via the secret passageway, after all. And they'd had better things to do when visiting the village than stopping by a house whose legends they'd known were false since the beginning.
"Have you called Dumbledore?"
Sirius turned around to see Kingsley approaching him, seemingly having decided to walk a bit of the way between the street and the Shack. The sound of the Auror's voice had torn Sirius from his trip through the past. "No," he muttered, facing the other man as he stopped and stood next to him. "I sent the Patronus to Remus; I figured you'd send one to Dumbledore."
A chuckle escaped the larger man as he smiled. "That's good," he said, his voice deep. "I did, by the way. He should be here soon."
Sirius nodded. "Is Dora not coming?" he asked, having just realised that his cousin hadn't followed Kingsley to the Shack.
"Oh, I believe she was Apparating directly inside," answered Kingsley, taking a glance behind him at the building. "As I'm sure Dumbledore will."
"Remus as well," said Sirius, his words spoken at the same time that the faint sound of a crack reached his ears. The sound had been so soft that he was sure Kingsley hadn't heard it, but then again, Kingsley wasn't an Animagus. "And he's just arrived," he continued as he started walking towards the entrance – an entrance nearly impossible to find unless one knew what to look for.
"Coming?" Sirius glanced over his shoulder when he realised that Kingsley hadn't followed him. The other man nodded and approached.
A few wooden boards moved aside, a switch flicked here, and a knob turned in just the right way over there. Up one narrow, creaking set of stairs and through a few dust-covered passages, and both Sirius and Kingsley made it into the Shack. Faint voices could be heard coming from the main room on the upper level, and the two of them followed the sounds.
"—wear your hair pink."
"Old habits die hard."
"That they do." Sirius entered the room, greeting Remus and nodding at Dora as he did so. It had been nearly a year since he'd seen his old friend, after all. And, he realised as he looked around, it had been in this same room.
Such was true, of course. Dirt and dust had been dislodged from the scuffles that had taken place. There were scorch marks on the walls and floor from a few of the spells that went awry. A few spots of blood could also be seen, if one was able to see past the new dust that had settled in a year's time.
A quick glance at Remus told Sirius that he, too, was dwelling on memories of that night. That night of meetings and returns, that night of truths and the ending of lies.
But neither had long to think about it. Sirius's thoughts were interrupted by Dumbledore's arrival. He watched as the old wizard's gaze travelled the room, taking in the surroundings and people present. Had anyone looked inside and not known about the Order, Sirius realised, the sight would have been quite odd. A headmaster, two Aurors, an escaped convict and a werewolf all inside a dirt-covered room in a run-down shack didn't exactly scream out a connection.
Only a part of Sirius listened as Dumbledore spoke. He'd already figured that the headmaster had met with a Death Eater impersonating Jack Benson, and that the entire thing had been a set-up orchestrated by his deranged cousin (though he wasn't quite sure if Dumbledore mentioned that part).
And then the topic of where headquarters should be was approached.
In the last war, Sirius recalled, their 'headquarters' had been a house on the eastern side of the country. Several stories and quite large, the house had been big enough to meet the Order's needs. Spacious areas where meetings could be held, numerous rooms and offices to keep plans and documents, wards and enchantments surrounding the home that could protect it against almost anything … it had been a great place for the Order of the Phoenix to use.
Until it had been burned down one night, the Dark Mark seen floating in the sky when a few members had arrived for a cancelled (though they hadn't known it was cancelled) meeting. The house's location had been given away to the Death Eaters, and it was the first solid proof that a spy had existed among them.
So using the same house was definitely out of the question.
Yet, Sirius knew of another house, one that (unless something had changed) was just as protected as the Order's last headquarters had been in the beginning. Unplottable and surrounded by numerous wards, the house would also work with the size required by the Order. Several levels and plenty of rooms, not to mention a large basement kitchen that would be spacious enough for Dumbledore to hold his meetings.
And it wasn't as if they'd have any trouble getting or using the house. It was his, after all.
"I have an idea," he said grimly, and the others all turned to look at him. Sirius sighed. "Grimmauld Place."
Nearly twenty years had passed since he'd stepped foot beyond that front doorway, yet the only thing that seemed to have changed in Sirius's view was that everything just grew dirtier. The same spells had managed to unlock the front door; the same dark colours covered the walls and floor; the same expensive, most envied, best-in-Wizarding-society furniture stood in the rooms. A decade's worth of dirt, grime, and dust covered everything, however, making the home appear even more depressing than it'd been when Sirius had left.
Sirius was only partially mindful of the group who had entered the house behind him. He saw Remus looking around, saw dust clouds rise off the carpet when Kingsley took a heavy step off the wooden floor. He saw Dora via the light of her wand which she held near her face, the expressions upon which made Sirius want to laugh (and made him wonder what, exactly, she'd been expecting). And Dumbledore … well, Dumbledore just looked out of place with his colourful robes and bemused smile.
The tip of his wand provided him with enough light to see where he was going – Sirius was sure that the same spells would also light the surrounding lamps, but he wasn't quite ready to have the room bathed in light just yet – and Sirius headed deeper into the house. He made it to the foot of the main stairs, seeing out of the corner of his eye as the others entered the kitchen. The railings of the staircase used to have a polished shine, but now they were covered in dust, just like everything else. With each step he took the stairs creaked but Sirius continued his ascent to the upper floor.
Portraits of ancestors hung along the filthy walls, the occupants all asleep or out of their frames, a fact that Sirius was immensely thankful for. He wasn't in the mood to deal with a painted family member telling him how much he'd 'disgraced the family' again. He kept his wand held low, hoping the light wouldn't awaken any of them, either, as he continued his exploration. Luckily, all appeared to be heavy sleepers. His grandfather, Arcturus, continued snoring in his ornate frame, as did his great-grandparents, Cygnus and Violetta, their normally stiff postures relaxed and seeming almost normal. There was his mother to the left, and his aunt Lucretia –
A few steps back brought Sirius to stand in front of a portrait of a woman that he had the unfortunate opportunity to call his mother. He hadn't set eyes on the woman since he'd left at sixteen, taking care not even to look in his family's direction on Platform 9 ¾ those last few years of school. Sirius hadn't even known that his mother had even had a self-portrait made, though he did remember the numerous family ones that'd been painted throughout his childhood. Stiff, boring, and showing a 'proper Pureblood family' they all were, and Sirius had no doubt that his painted self was no longer in the frames.
Still, if there was one portrait that the dark-haired wizard was extraordinarily glad wasn't awake, it was his mother's. Conversations with aunts, uncles, and grandparents would have been bad enough, but he'd take those over the yells of his mother any time. He stared at the large portrait, seemingly transfixed by it. The background was plain, nothing special, with the only piece of furniture being the chair in which the painted image of his mother sat, sleeping. A thick and ornate frame surrounded the canvas, the gleaming silver colour almost sparkling, it was so clean.
In fact, Sirius thought, looking around him, it's the cleanest thing here.
And he was right. There was not a single speck of dust on the canvas or frame of his mother's portrait, yet not a single one of the others were so treated. Everything else around him had easily accumulated ten years worth of filth, but the picture in front of him appeared like it'd been cleaned every single day since it was painted. She probably has every damn protection-type spell on this thing, anyway, he thought, looking it over once again before continuing down the corridor.
Most of the doors he opened contained just what he'd expected them to – rooms that hadn't been touched in a decade. Drapes and blankets were covered in holes; wood was turned grey with the dust. Sirius didn't enter many of the rooms on the first floors, only opening the doors long enough to see what was inside and shut them again. His wand still provided him with all the light he dared use, and it still remained held at his side for the most part.
It wasn't until he reached a room on the third floor that he found anything worth pausing to look at.
At first glance upon opening the door, his father's old office appeared just like most of the rooms in the house had. The shelves still remained stocked with their books and artefacts, the furniture still looked the same, and nothing at all looked disturbed. If it hadn't been for the layers of dust on everything, Sirius could have almost thought nothing at all had changed, that his father had just left the desk for a moment to go the library. All of the other rooms, though they had felt undisturbed, hadn't felt quite the same as this one.
There weren't any slumbering portraits of ancestors on any of the walls, so Sirius felt confident that he could use the room's lights to see this time. With a few muttered spells, the lamps came on, dim lights piercing the shadows of the room, and the Lumos of his wand was extinguished. Sirius slowly entered the room, shutting the door mostly closed behind him to keep light from filtering into the corridor and awakening any portraits.
Footprints appeared in the dust with each step that the dark-haired man took as he walked around the room. Dark, thin curtains covered the windows, their ebony colour now faded to more of a charcoal with the dust. A large, stone fireplace stood across the room, the Black family crest engraved in the centre of the structure, a half-full jar of Floo powder nearby. Quills and ink bottles dotted the ancient, yet strong and expensive, wooden desk that stood near Sirius. His eyes scanned over the books on the closest bookshelf. Every one of them had to do with Black family records – histories, business records, bloodlines. There were lists of births and deaths, marriages and disinheritances. Just about any fact a person wanted to know about a member of the Black family could be found in one of those books.
Curious, Sirius picked up one of the heavy tomes, opening it to a random page near the end. A few read sentences told him it was one of the later marriage volumes, starting around 1920, it seemed. He flipped through a couple of the pages, having started around 1947, and passed the fifties and sixties, before he reached the earlier seventies – and stopped.
Staring up at him from the faded parchment pages was a photograph from his cousin Bella's marriage. He'd only been around twelve years old at the time, he recalled, and hadn't enjoyed being forced to attend the ceremonies one bit. Andromeda hadn't been allowed to come, having been disowned just a few months earlier, so he hadn't even had his favourite cousin to get him through the boredom.
The picture held five people, all of them the perfect image of Pureblood society – and none of them smiling. A twenty-year-old Bellatrix and a teenage Narcissa stood on the left side of the photo, while three wizards stood on the right. Next to Bella was a much younger Rodolphus, followed by his brothers, a fourteen-year-old Rabastan … and a nineteen-year-old Roderick Lestrange.
It was on Roderick – the brother that no one remembered, the brother that seemingly disappeared almost fifteen years ago – that Sirius's gaze was locked. Roderick had never been tied to the Death Eaters, regardless of the fact that his two brothers ended up with life sentences. He'd been silent and stayed in the shadows, searching for a neutral side in the First War, many believed. And even when he'd disappeared in the summer of 1981, no one jumped to the conclusion that he was dead, like wizards and witches did with so many others. No, that was just Roderick's way … to disappear, to be mysterious, to be unknown.
And regardless of the fact that nearly twenty-five years had passed since this picture had been taken, Sirius knew that he had the final piece of the puzzle over the night's events in his hands. Though he could never recall having spoken with the middle Lestrange brother before, though he only remembered having just met the guy at his cousin's marriage … he knew.
Roderick Lestrange had been the mysterious wizard that he'd met in the alleyway. Roderick Lestrange had been Bella's messenger, the only one in the position to act, the only one not serving any sentence in Azkaban. The feeling of familiarity that Sirius had felt had simply come from the man's resemblance to his brothers – but he'd been different enough for Sirius not to recognise him.
Sirius ripped the picture from the book and immediately left the room, heading down the stairs as quietly as he could so as not to deal with any waking portraits. He made it down to the ground floor, but upon seeing that it remained empty, continued his descent to the basement kitchen. And it was there that he found everyone.
Four heads looked up at him immediately upon Sirius's entering the kitchen. Remus and Dora had taken seats at the long, wooden table, and had appeared to be having a conversation, while Kingsley had obviously been telling Dumbledore about the meeting that Sirius and Dora had each shared with the Death Eater. The two notes – one demanding Sirius's death, and one demanding his cousin's – sat on the table in front of them.
"Sirius, where –"
But the dark-haired wizard ignored his friend and approached the headmaster and Auror.
"I know who it was," said Sirius, placing the photograph on top of the two notes. Remus and Dora rose from their seats and joined Dumbledore, Kingsley, and Sirius. A tattooed hand reached out and pointed to the tall, thin wizard at the right end of the photograph.
Looks of understanding appeared on every face as that final piece of the puzzle locked into place for each of them. Now, there were no more questions; the whys and whos and hows had been answered. Legally, Roderick would have had little trouble getting a visit with either of his brothers or sister-in-law. A few charms or potions could have easily masked his appearance enough to meet with Dumbledore as Jack Benson, and continue enough of the illusion to keep his identity a secret to an Auror and Sirius.
The only question left was what they were going to do about it.
"Do we even know where he is?" asked Remus as the conversation sought to answer just that very question. "Regardless of what we do to him – kill him, arrest him, whatever – we would have to be able to find him first."
"And Roderick has a very good ability to disappear in moments like these," rumbled Kingsley.
"He'd be at the manor, wouldn't he?" asked Sirius, making all heads turn to face him again. "Lestrange Manor would be his, now, seeing as he's the only Lestrange alive and not locked up in prison."
"And he has no reason to hide, either," said Dora, continuing right after Sirius paused. "Especially if he thinks he can't be charged or implicated in this whole thing."
Sirius, Dora, Remus, and Kingsley all turned to face the headmaster, each wanting to know what the old wizard would suggest. He hadn't said a word since the conversation went down such a road.
Blue eyes twinkling, Dumbledore leaned forwards in his chair, his gaze staring at each of the four people in front of him before he opened his mouth to speak. "I believe that Mr Lestrange should receive a visit from the both of you," the headmaster said, nodding at Sirius and Dora. "You, Sirius and Nymphadora, are the ones more involved in this than anyone else here, after all.
"But a murder is not what we will plot here. Other than that … I believe that it can be your decision, Nymphadora, Sirius," finished Dumbledore as he nodded towards each of them once again.
It didn't take too long for the pair to figure out what was going to happen to Mr Roderick Lestrange.
Authors' Note: And like it says, that's the end, everyone! We had a lot of fun writing this story, and we hope that you enjoyed reading it, too! Some thanks goes out to Imogene the Dancing Cow, ariex, Someone aka Me, and erin for reviewing the last part, as well as to Someone aka Me for favouriting it and fishysquishums for adding it to their alerts. We appreciate it all!
--ForeverSirius77 of FFN (meganlupin of MNFF) and guiding ray of sunlight of MNFF