Growing Up Black

Disclaimer - I don't own Harry Potter. I'm just having a bit of fun with it.

A/N - Here we go. It's a bit short, and a bit late, for which I apologise, but there you have it. Thanks to all my readers and reviewers! Your kind words truly keep me going.

Now for the next installment...

Chapter 39

A million thoughts raced through Sirius's mind as he prepared the Portkey and returned to number seventeen, Windermere Court. In school, 'detention on the full moon' had always been the boys' code for 'things are seriously fucked up'. (So much so, in fact, that they had needed to invent other ways of letting one another know when they actually did have detention on the full moon. 'Litter duty' had always been Sirius's favourite.) After school, during the war, Sirius and James had found the old phrase quite useful for describing the stickiest of the many sticky situations in which they habitually found themselves whilst on Order business. That James had used it in his summons now could only mean something monumentally bad. But what? The family were all safe, so far as Sirius knew, and the Horcruxes had nearly all been destroyed. What could possibly be so urgent that James's portrait had felt compelled to send for Sirius right away, something so dire that it couldn't wait a couple of days until they were scheduled to return to England?

Sirius wondered whether this might not be some prank James's portrait had decided to play. Such a thing would hardly be out of character for the painting's subject, and the family generally agreed that the artist had ever so slightly exaggerated James's mischievousness. This option seemed more and more likely the more Sirius considered it, and by the time he had appeared in the drawing room, he was nearly convinced of it.

'If it does turn out to be a joke, I swear to Merlin I'll hex his canvas blank,' Sirius muttered on his way up the stairs, though the sad smile on his lips betrayed the fact that, deep down, Sirius would very much have liked to be the victim of one of his late friend's pranks again.

'There you are, Padfoot!' James's portrait exclaimed when Sirius reached the third floor landing. 'Thank God you've come. I'm sorry to pull you away from your holiday, but I really didn't think you'd want to let this wait.'

Sirius knew as soon as he saw James's furrowed brow that this was no joke. James was honestly worried about something.

'What's the matter, Prongs?' he asked.

'Best for you to see for yourself,' James replied. 'It's all in the study, though you can't go in the usual way – Harry ordered Mopsy to keep anyone but him and Draco from going through the door.'

Sirius raised an eyebrow quizzically. 'The door specifically? Why didn't he just forbid anyone to enter the room, full stop? There's a secret passage behind the suit of armour. He and Draco both know about that one, I'm sure of it.'

James smirked. 'Well, they may have been a bit preoccupied at the time, and I might have suggested specifically that they have Mopsy keep people away from the door.'

Sirius grinned at his best friend's cleverness, but his grin turned quickly into a scowl when he realised the full import of what James had said.

'Harry was here?' he repeated. 'When was this?'

'Earlier today,' drawled Phineas, who had just stepped into a busy mediaeval torture chamber that hung on the wall across from where James was standing. 'He and Draco had just returned from some escapade with Rita Skeeter.'

'RITA SKEETER?' Sirius shouted. 'That cow? What in the name of Hufflepuff were those idiot boys thinking?'

'One thing at a time, Padfoot,' James said in an unusually-subdued tone. 'You'll understand more once you see the pictures.'

'Pictures?' Sirius repeated, but neither James nor Phineas would tell him anything else, so Sirius was compelled to make his way to the master bedroom, where lay the entrance to the secret passageway into Marius's study. Sirius let himself into the bedroom and pressed gently against the panelled wood to the left of the fireplace. The panel slid open easily, revealing a long, dark stairwell – and a rather irritated house elf.

'What is Master Sirius wanting with the secret passageway to Master's study?' she demanded.

'I should think that would be obvious, Mopsy,' Sirius replied. 'I need something from there.'

'That study is belonging to Mopsy's Master, and he is not wanting anyone else to be snooping around there.'

Sirius frowned. 'Is that so?'

Mopsy nodded vigorously. 'Master is telling Mopsy not to let anyone through the door of Master's study.'

Sirius gestured irritably at the secret passage. 'Does this look like the door to you?'

The old elf narrowed her eyes. 'Mopsy has been raising too many generations of naughty Black boys to fall for Master Sirius's little tricks – begging Master Sirius's pardon, of course,' she said. 'Mopsy is understanding what her Master was meaning, and she is careful to be closing all the loopholes.' She straightened her back and stretched to her full height. Even so, she only came up to Sirius's thigh. 'Mopsy is a good elf.'

Sirius sighed. 'She is that. Too good sometimes.' He wandered over and sat down on the bed, holding his head in his hands. In an instant, Mopsy's expression shifted from one of severity to one of concern, and she wandered over to the bed.

'Is something bothering Master Sirius?' she asked.

Sirius took a deep breath. 'Yes, Mopsy. I need something in the study. It's very important, both to me and to the entire family, including your Master Aries. But if I can't get in, how am I supposed to deal with it?'

Mopsy frowned. 'Couldn't you be asking Mopsy's Master to fetch it for you?'

Sirius began to answer, then stopped himself, an idea forming in his mind. He instead shook his head sadly.

'You see, Mopsy,' he began, 'Master Aries was doing something he shouldn't have been doing. He and Master Draco came to England from France without my permission. Now, ordinarily I'd overlook it, because I'm sure they had a good reason, but if I was to tell them that I know, then I'd be obliged to punish them.'

Mopsy's eyes went wide. 'Punish Mopsy's Master?' she whispered, the very idea visibly filling her with horror. 'No! Punish Mopsy instead! Mopsy is the one not letting you into the study!'

Sirius shook his head again. 'But, Mopsy, you've done nothing wrong. Your Master told you not to let anyone into the study, and you're carrying out his orders. You're a very good elf.' He sighed melodramatically. 'And Master Aries is a good boy. But he oughtn't to have gone anywhere without his father's permission.'

Mopsy nodded pensively, but said nothing.

'Now, I'd love to let it go,' Sirius went on. 'But I desperately need what's in that study, and if I have to tell Aries, then I'll have to punish him. You wouldn't want me to undermine discipline, would you?'

'No, Master,' Mopsy said adamantly. 'Mopsy believes in following orders.'

'Then we're stuck,' Sirius said sadly. 'I'll have to punish Aries. If only there was some other way for me to get what I need.' He stood up and walked to the door. Mopsy Apparated into his path.

'Wait, Master Sirius,' she pleaded. 'Mopsy has another idea! Mopsy can fetch what Master needs for him! Mopsy's Master said nothing about her bringing anything out of the study!'

Sirius smiled. 'Well done, Mopsy!' he said, and the elf beamed with pride. 'Go into the study and ask Master James's portrait to tell you what to bring. I shall await him and you in the library.'

Mopsy bowed and vanished with a loud pop and a look of proud satisfaction. Sirius chuckled softly and made his way to the library. When he reached it, James's portrait was already lounging on top of an enormous blood-stained Aztec altar, much to the dismay of both priest and victim, neither of whom was quite certain what to do with the pale-faced wizard who had so rudely interrupted their sacred rites. A stack of parchment was sitting on the desk, and Mopsy was setting a tea tray on a side table.

'Will Master Sirius be needing anything else?' she asked meekly.

'No, thank you, Mopsy,' Sirius replied. 'You may go now. Be sure not to mention any of this to anyone, especially Master Aries. I should hate to have to punish him if he finds out.'

Mopsy nodded eagerly, then vanished.

James took a bite from a large, red apple. 'I have to say, Padfoot, Mopsy is much cleverer than I gave her credit for. I felt certain she'd let you through the secret passage.'

Sirius smirked. 'I found a way around it, didn't I?'

'You did,' James agreed, hoisting his apple in a salute to his old comrade. 'Now let's see how you apply that ever-so-brilliant Black brain of yours to this mess.' He jerked a thumb at the pile of papers. 'You probably want to sit down. It's really something.'

Sirius gave James an inquisitive look, but sat down at the desk and began leafing through the stack of parchment. He said nothing as he read through it, but grew increasingly pale with each item. Eventually he saw something that made him turn beet-red, and James knew that he had come across the naughty photos.

'I'm curious to see how that one happened myself,' James said cheekily.

Sirius made an obscene hand gesture, but he kept his eyes fixed on the desk, and he was still very red.

James chuckled at first at the insult, but Sirius did not seem to relax.

'Padfoot, mate?' James said hesitantly. 'Are you all right?'

Sirius went a long while without answering. At length he said, 'You know it's not true, right? I didn't sell you out to Voldemort, and I never would.' His breath hitched. 'I never could.'

'I know that,' James replied quietly.

'I was happy for you, really,' Sirius went on. 'It's just….'

'I know,' James repeated. 'I'm sorry.'

Sirius sniffed. 'And as for these bloody things,' he said, waving the shocking pictures, 'I've no idea where the hell Rita Skeeter got a hold of them.'

James couldn't resist asking. 'So, what was it? Polyjuice? A Metamorphmagus?'

Sirius turned crimson at that. He coughed. 'Dreams.'

James pouted. 'Is that all? I'd hoped it was something more interesting.' He took a large bite of his apple.

Sirius coughed again. 'Waking Dreams.'

James began to choke, and Eglantine Melliflua's portrait had to Summon the apple chunk before he could breathe freely again.

'Waking Dreams?' he gasped.

Sirius nodded stiffly.

'Two questions, then,' James said. 'Where the hell did you get the potion, and why the hell didn't you share it with me?'

Sirius gave him a half-grin. His colour was slowly returning to normal, but James could still see that he was mortally embarrassed.

'The answer to the first question is easy enough,' he said. 'I nicked some from that Death Eater we caught in Yorkshire.'

'And why didn't you share it with me?' James asked indignantly. 'I nearly lost an eye to that bastard.'

'I planned on it, really,' Sirius said. His cheeks began to redden again. 'But, er, I had a really bad day, and I was lonely, and….'

'It's all right, Padfoot,' James said gently.

Sirius jumped to his feet, picked up the antique chair on which he'd been sitting and hurled it across the room. It hit the wall and shattered into a dozen pieces. Most of the portraits in the room, including the Aztec priest and his victim, went scurrying, though Eglantine Melliflua perched herself on the edge of a chaise longue, watching the boys with fascination and popping caramels into her mouth. Being a portrait can get rather boring after all, and so much the more so when one is hanging in a library.

'No, it isn't bloody all right, James!' Sirius snapped. 'Because someone saw it, and gave that memory to Rita Skeeter, and what do you think she's going to do with it?' His anger was like a tidal wave, rolling over everything in its path without a break. 'The boys may have hampered her a bit, but she's a persistent bitch. She'll still find a way to put out her article, and this rubbish will be all over everyone's newspapers. The Wizengamot might even want to investigate. They'll say I'm an unfit parent. They might even try to annul my marriage to Cissy, and where would that leave her and Draco?'

'You don't know that,' James tried to break in, but it was no use.

'And you know what the worst part of it all is?' Sirius continued. 'The worst part is that I can't even really have this all out with you, because you're effing dead!' He slammed his fists hard on the table, and then dissolved into violent sobs.

'He knew, though,' James said quietly, slipping off the altar onto the temple floor.

Sirius opened his mouth to reply, then shut it just as abruptly. 'He? What do you mean?'

'James Potter,' James replied. 'The real one. He knew. He knew everything.' He gestured at the pictures. 'Well, not about the Waking Dreams, but everything else. It didn't matter to him, and I think I know better than anyone, seeing as I'm him, or, well, something.' He took a deep breath. 'He was only bothered that you were so eaten up over it. Still are, by the looks of things.'

'Wasn't his fault,' Sirius muttered. 'Your fault.'

'I suppose I'm trying to say that…if things had been different…,' James went on. 'If he ever had fancied a bloke, then, well, you know….'

'Yeah, I do,' Sirius said, and sighed. 'Cheers, Prongs.'

'Any time, Padfoot,' James replied. An awkward quiet hung over the room as Sirius shifted his weight from foot to foot and James drummed his fingers against the stone surface of the altar.

At last James broke the silence. 'Merlin, I need a fag,' he said.

Sirius snorted. 'So do I, now that you mention it.' He pulled a pack of cigarettes from the back pocket of his trousers and lit one up. 'And since nobody's here to complain if I do, I might as well indulge.'

'That's just like you, Padfoot,' James said with a scowl, 'to rub in the fact that you're alive and able to indulge in such things whilst I am not.'

Sirius rolled his eyes. 'You giant arse,' he retorted. 'I can't believe you don't remember the second part of my wedding present to you.'

James stared at him blankly for a moment, and then comprehension dawned on his face. He slipped a hand inside his wedding robes and retrieved a platinum cigarette case.

'I can't believe I forgot it either!' he exclaimed. 'This was the best present ever. Lily never even figured out where I had stashed it. Cheers, Padfoot.' He lit up his own cigarette and leant back against a statue. He cast a speculative glance at Sirius's backside. 'And whilst we're speaking of ginormous arses…,' he began.

'Shut up,' Sirius snapped, but there was a twinkle in his eyes, and James grinned. Sirius let out a short bark, and grinned back. He took a long drag on his cigarette, then began to pace back and forth.

'There's got to be some way for us to figure out who's behind this,' he muttered.

James raised an eyebrow. 'I thought we knew already,' he said. 'It's that Skeeter bitch.'

Sirius shook his head. 'Someone else is using her.'

'How can you be so sure?' James asked.

'In the first place, she hasn't any motive,' Sirius replied.

'What about breaking a big story?'

Sirius frowned. 'I really don't think so. Of course she'd print it once it was practically laid in her lap, but I can't imagine her going digging for this sort of thing, not when she didn't even have a clue that any of it existed, and certainly not when I've got the money and the power to make her life a living hell.'

'A valid point,' James observed. 'So who then?'

'Don't know,' Sirius mumbled. He took a deep drag on his cigarette, then pulled over an unbroken chair and sat down at the desk. He began flipping through the papers methodically, sorting them into separate piles. James simply crossed his arms and watched, knowing better than to interfere in his best friend's process. Sirius scrutinised each piece of parchment carefully, looking for any slight clue that might indicate where Skeeter had got her information. He winced at some things, chuckled at others and frowned at yet others. At length, however, he came upon something that stopped him dead in his tracks.

'That bastard,' he growled. 'I should have known it was him. He did it before.'

James raised an eyebrow. 'What do you mean?'

Sirius held up a piece of parchment for James's inspection. 'Does this handwriting look at all familiar to you?' he asked.

It did. Quite familiar.

'I'll be buggered,' James swore.

'Quite,' Sirius agreed.

'Are you sure?' James asked.

'Check out the signature at the bottom,' Sirius pointed out.

James gasped. There, in neat handwriting that James had seen so many times before, was the damning proof.

Of course it pains me to write this, Headmaster, as I've always considered Sirius one of my closest friends, and I'd never wish to betray his confidence. But, under the circumstances, I think it only right that you should know why I suspect Sirius of being the spy, and why I think it best that he be kept apart from any sensitive Order matters. I've tried talking to James, but of course he refuses to listen. Perhaps you can make him see reason.

Yours sincerely,

Remus J. Lupin