Nico was alone. As usual. And he was just fine with it, thank you very much.
That afternoon, he had shadow traveled to London. It was a tiring process, but he figured he could sleep in some abandoned building or an alley and then shadow travel home in the morning. He plugged into his iPod and turned up the volume loud enough he could pretend nobody else was around. Even in a crowd, he was on his own. The relaxing screams of a tortured soul, or at least a singer who did a good impression, came through his ears and soothed him.
He and Percy had been fighting. Again. Percy wanted him to come live permanently in his apartment, but Nico knew what would follow. Go to school. Get friends. Be betrayed when they thought you were a little different. No, thank you. He was just fine the way he was. Living at camp sucked for the exclusion due to his dad, but at least there he knew he couldn't trust them in the first place. None of that 'this time will be different' crap he always got from adults or Percy. Because every time, it just came back to bite him.
He stared up at the sky. It was a cloudy night, but the moon was clear winking eye, nearly gone. It was nothing but a sliver of ice, melting away to nothing. Looking up to the clouds just made him feel empty and small inside. Normal people got to believe that there was someone up there, looking out for him, but he knew that anyone with him in mind would be across the ocean and not really interested in his wellfare(aka Percy).
Kicking a rock with his toe, Nico let out a long sigh and stared at the ground, pulling his black cap down low over his eyes. It was probably time to try and find somewhere to sleep for the night. A stiff breeze blew through his very bones, and he decided that he'd rather break and enter somewhere for the night. He glanced up at the houses next to him. They were dingy and dark, and matched his mood. Number 11, Grimmauld Place, he decided, looked like a nice empty, abandoned house, probably chock full of horror movie potential. Perfect for a ghost king to nap. Nico smiled and blended into the shadows, which wrapped around him like a cold blanket, and then he found himself standing in the second floor window. He peered at the spot he had stood only moments before.
That got him every time. Shadow traveling was fun.
Letting out a big sigh, Nico realized how much more tired he had been than he thought. Doing a quick check to make sure he wasn't about to nap with a hellhound, Nico declared the place safe and
started looking for somewhere to crash. He stumped down the creaky, rotting stairs. All of the rooms had been emptied of furniture, but he found a grubby rug that smelled faintly of mouse droppings in the corner of the kitchen next to the hearth. Obviously, the hearth was stone cold, but he used his lighter and some ancient newspapers to get a small fire going. A wooden cutting board had been forgotten, and he tossed it into the flame in lieu of logs. He left his iPod on, figuring he could charge it when he got home tomorrow.
Then he wrapped the moldy mat around his thin shoulders and curled up in front of the warm embers that glowed like eerie watchful eyes in the pitch black of the house.
"What do you mean, someone next door?" Lupin asked.
"What I just said," Moody growled, folding his arms. "Someone tripped the alarms in the house next door. Not a Muggle because they just appeared instead of using a door."
Uneasy looks were sent around the kitchen table. Sirius turned his head towards his soup miserably. They were going to check it out, he knew, and he'd miss all the action as usual. Stirring his spoon through the chunky broth, he muttered a few curses to himself.
Molly had been ladling soup out, and she paused with the pot on her hip. "So what does it mean?" she asked.
Moody stood abruptly, pushing his chair back. The kids started, surprised by the sudden movement, as did Molly. Lupin, Sirius, and the other adults remained unaffected. They were used to Moody's behavior by now. "Could be Death Eaters, finally catching on to us," he suggested. A few gasps raced around the room. "We'll have to check it out. I'll go, but I'll need two others."
Tonks leaped up. "I'll go, Moody! Love to help!" Moody considered her, and then nodded.
"You too, Sirius," he said.
Molly jumped, as did Sirius, who had begun to beam broadly. He was finally leaving the house! It was about time he got a breath of fresh air! "I don't think it's a good idea," she protested. Sirius cut her a furious look. She was too protective of him. He wasn't her son. And it was his house. Curt responses sprang to his tongue, but Moody ended all discussion.
"We'll be going straight through the wall. He won't be seen," he told her. Sirius drooped slightly, but it was still going to be something to do! He would do anything to get out of the house. Besides, he could certainly open a window covertly enough in the other house. "We'll be back shortly. If it is a Death Eater, we'll have to dispose of him. If not, we'll be here in time for dessert."
Sirius was bouncing on his toes eagerly. "Let's go now," he enthused, taking out his wand and twirling it around his fingers. Red sparks danced on the tip of it. One shot out and burned the table.
"Oh, really, Sirius," Molly scolded. "Do be a bit more mature."
He shrugged. "It's my table, anyways," he told her as she aimed her wand straight at the burn marks and they vanished.
Moody motioned for him and Tonks to follow him towards the wall that rubbed against Number 11. "We'll just be deactivating protective spells for this room," he said. "Everywhere else will still be hidden and perfectly safe." Then he raised his wand at the wall and an archway was suddenly cleared with a soft bang.
Nico was jolted out of his sleep by the house vibrating slightly. He pulled out his headphones on the iPod and checked the time on the top of the screen. It was only nine, he had barely slept forty five minutes. It wasn't even enough to shadow travel out of the city. Maybe a few blocks, though. Before he could, he heard a shuffling upstairs. "Hello?" he called cautiously, his hand gripping the handle of his dagger. "Is someone there?"
Something started down the steps, making wet snorting noises. Nico's mind went straight to potential threats. Hellhounds. Minotaur. Even Furies, although he knew they wouldn't touch him for fear of his father's rage. Still, it was a dark house. Anything could go down.
Then a large black dog appeared and padded out of the darkness. He pushed his dagger back inside his jacket and relaxed, laughing a little. "It's just a puppy," he said, reaching out to pet its head. The dog panted eagerly. It trotted towards the door. "Do you need to get out, boy?" he asked, wandering after it. "More like how did you get in," Nico added to himself, curiously. "No collar. You must be a stray. Nobody wanted you, either?" He scratched the dog's ears, reluctant to set it loose in the night.
Another louder thud echoed from upstairs. Nico's head whipped around. "Got larger friends, doggie?" he asked, his voice turning cold. Nico wished for lights in the house. Hades' blood gave him excellent low light vision, but even he was struggling with this house.
Suddenly, a frothing maw lunged out of nowhere at him. A hellhound with flaming red eyes tackled him to the ground. The smell of rotting flesh accompanied it, filling his nose. Nico yelled furiously as its razor sharp teeth closed on his arm. A claw dug into his chest. Red hot streaks of pain blazed along his abdomen. With his free arm that wasn't being bitten off, he groped in his jacket for his knife. Where was it? Scrabbling for the cool hilt, Nico gritted his teeth against the pain. Finally, his fingers closed around it and he whipped it up, stabbing into the beast's neck. It dissolved in a puff of golden dust. Nico sheathed his knife quickly and picked himself up.
He didn't have to see the wounds to know they were bad. His jacket was torn up horribly, just imagine what the actual flesh must have looked like. Pressing his good hand to his stomach, he felt his palm get warm and sticky. Suddenly woozy, Nico slumped against the wall. The dog had started barking loudly at him. "Shut up," he hissed at it. "You want to draw a whole pack of them down on me?" It didn't quit, and thundering foot steps echoed down the stairs. Two bright dots appeared in the room, illuminating the faces of a horribly scarred man who was missing an eye and a young woman with bright red hair.
"Who're you?" the man demanded, jabbing what looked like a stick at him. Nico raised his hands cautiously, but winced when he stretched his abdomen.
The girl stepped forward and her eyes winded. "He's bleeding, Moody! Whatever that thing was, it obviously wasn't helping him." He wondered if it had attacked them first, and only been distracted by his delicious demigod scent. Poor mortals. Then again, they had these weird glowing sticks. He was wondering if they were even mortals at all.
"How did you get into the house?" Moody pressed.
Nico shrugged, and wished he hadn't as a sting of pain shot through him. "Front door. Not... rocket science," he gasped. The guy jabbed the light further into his face.
"Stop lying," he ordered. "I know you came in some other way."
"Moody," the girl said. "He's injured. Interrogate him once he stops bleeding out."
The man grunted in response and picked up Nico over one shoulder. Nico started kicking him. "Hey, what are you doing?" he demanded, furiously. "Let me go! Put me down, you kidnapper!" The dog trotted after him, pausing to pick up his iPod in his jaws. Nico mentally thanked him, wondering how they trained the dog so well as he continued to pound on the man's back.
They stepped through a gap in the wall. "Take care of the hole," Moody said, striding into what appeared to be a brightly lit house. Nico's jaw dropped. This hadn't been there before. What had happened? The house was equally grim, but it had power and looked lived in. The furniture certainly was a big change. Although he wondered if it was for the better, as the ancient leather seats, cracked and dusty, didn't exactly look inviting. For a moment, Nico had been stunned into silence, but he promptly resumed whacking Moody.
The girl paused and turned around to do something, but Nico was carried out of the room before he could see what.
"Hey, Moody. How was the—is that a kid?" asked a sickly looking man, who had been carrying a stack of plates. "You brought a kid in here?" He had a haggard look about him that made him look old beyond his years.
"Yes, he did!" Nico complained. "Put me down, you mugger! I'll have you for kidnapping and anything else I can think of!" With a sudden heave, he found himself thrown into a chair, and he winced again, grabbing his side. It looked like he was now in the kitchen of this place.
A woman with curly red hair gasped, rushing to his side in a motherly fashion. Nico reeled back. He didn't want a mother, he told himself. "Is that blood? Moody, what happened?"
"He was attacked by something," Moody said. "It looked like a giant dog when it came after us, but it heard him and went after him instead." Nico's guess had been correct, then. They were lucky he'd been there. They could have died, the stupid mortals. "Somehow, he killed it, and it vanished in a big puff of dust."
Nico huffed indignantly. "Somehow? I'm not that weak," he muttered.
The woman drew a stick like Moody and the woman had. "Well, let me just fix those up for you, dear," she said, but Nico was suddenly scooting away from her. Something inside of him told him that those things were really bad news. He did not want it touching him, thank you very much.
"Absolutely not," he snapped. "After a good night's sleep, I'll be fine." Well, after a good night's sleep, some shadow traveling home, and enough ambrosia and nectar to OD, that was. "I'll stick to bandaids for now, thank you very much."
She scoffed in a condescending way. "Don't be ridiculous," she said. "It won't hurt in the slightest. Those wounds need tending in a bad way." She aimed the stick right at his side and muttered something he didn't catch.
Nico clutched his side and reeled over, howling in pain. It was worse than the whole hellhound attack in the first place. He'd almost take bleeding out to death instead of this. His wound was now shooting black sparks and smoking. Nico lay prone on the floor for a few seconds as the three adults and the dog stood over him in shocked silence.
"I'm so sorry," she cried finally. "That's never happened in all my life."
He gave her a look full of hatred, which was about all he could manage from his awkward position on the ground. "Thanks for nothing. I'll pass on any other treatment."
"How about some old fashioned bandages?" the sickly man suggested, waving a stick of his own. A roll of bandages and some gauze appeared out of nowhere. "You'll have to take off your shirt, I'm afraid."
Nico gave him a disgusted look. "No." It wasn't just because of his extreme distrust of these people this time. There were other things on his body that he didn't want them to see. Like scars. Other hellhounds that had gotten away with more. Sadistic campers who thought it was fun to cut him up a little in training. With his luck, they'd probably try the same trick on his old wounds and just make him worse. He swayed a little as he was forced to a sitting position by Moody. Now he was dizzy from blood loss. Great.
"You can take it off or one of us will do it for you," Moody growled. Reluctantly, he pulled his shirt off over his head and tossed it onto the floor. The woman gasped but tried to hide it by coughing. The man's eyebrows shot up. The only person who looked unsurprised was Moody. He nodded at the bandages and the sickly man. "Well, now that that's taken care of. Get him something to eat and a shower. I have to get back to the Ministry." Moody swept out of the room, the woman hurrying after to show him out.
Nico scowled at the man as he began cleaning off his cuts. "I'm Lupin, by the way," he said with a wolfish grin. Nico was reminded vaguely of a homeless guy he once knew... but Nico couldn't remember anymore. Thanks, River of Lethe, he scowled darkly.
"Good for you," Nico snapped, hissing in his breath sharply as a bandage rubbed against his open wounds. "Also, ow."
"Sorry 'bout that," Lupin said pleasantly. The dog sat down next to him, thumping its tail eagerly. "The dog's Padfoot."
Nico absentmindedly scratched the dog's ears. "I used to have a dog," he said. It was a lot bigger, he thought, remembering Mrs. O'Leary's way of using squeaky toys as big as him and hula hoops as frisbees.
"So what's your name?" Lupin asked, finishing with his torso and starting to disinfect his arm.
Nico shot him an angry look. "I don't want to tell you," he said, feeling like a petulant child. "I'm still mad at you for kidnapping me."
Lupin didn't say anything else for awhile, and Nico knew then it was official. He couldn't go home. If he had been allowed to, he would have been quickly assured he could leave whenever. And yet he hadn't. So a prisoner, then. Not like it mattered, as once he had his energy back up, he could just shadow travel away. "Not for long," Lupin assured him, but it was a lame consolation. "And you won't be treated poorly. Molly has wonderful cooking."
Nico hated being trapped places. It reminded him too much of the Lotus Hotel and Casino. And he had already spent enough time trapped there.
"Want soup?" Lupin offered, pointing towards a bowl on the counter. "Molly makes a great stew." Molly must have been the woman who had lit his wounds on fire.
"I hate soup," he said, even as his stomach grumbled furiously. He hadn't eaten since breakfast, as he had no English money to buy lunch after he shadow traveled. Lupin laughed and put the bowl in front of him. Nico noted how tired he looked, and felt a little guilty. Then he reminded himself he had been kidnapped. He dug into the cool broth, a little disappointed. Nico had hoped for something hot to eat that night, not some nasty leftovers that had frozen. Then again, beggars couldn't be choosers, and he had really been planning to go hungry until tomorrow. This was better than the alternative. He reluctantly had to admit it was delicious, even cold. As he watched, Lupin resumed whisking dishes up with a flick of his stick and moving them into the sink.
Nico pressed his face into his palm. He had to figure out what was going on here. They kept doing things casually that made them look like children of Hecate, but they didn't know what a hellhound was, obviously, and he was pretty well known as the son of Hades. Especially after the war last year. Then again, being well known hadn't made anyone treat him better, he reminded himself miserably, tracing an X shaped scar over his heart. And it was London. He didn't know of any British demigods. Which left him at square one. Who were these people? Normally, he would jump right in and demand answers, but at this point he just wanted to go home. Or bed. Bed was sounding pretty good, too.
"Want a shower?" Lupin offered. Nico shrugged and winced simultaneously.
"I'm kind of tired. Some place I can crash?" he asked.
Lupin shrugged. "You can sleep in Sirius's room, I guess."
Nico grabbed his shirt off the floor. "Who's that?" he asked, pulling the bloody rag over his head.
Lupin smiled secretively. "He owns the house, but he finally got to go out tonight. Padfoot is his dog."
"Seems like a pretty sucky place to live," Nico muttered to Padfoot. "I don't envy you, that's for sure."
Padfoot whined softly in agreement.
Lupin led him up a rickety flight of stairs that were desperately in need of a good dusting, Nico noted. He spotted a door that looked suspiciously like an exit when he stood on the first landing. The man pushed open a door on the third floor and walked in, lighting candles with the tip of his stick. Gods, this was confusing Nico. He convinced himself that it was just a weird half asleep dream state thing.
Sirius had simple tastes, Nico thought. But it was nice. A plain black bedspread, a couple pictures on the walls of people Nico didn't recognize. They looked like they were moving, but Nico rubbed his eyes and yawned. He was more tired than he thought. On the dresser, there were all sorts of odd knick knacks that Nico would have picked through had he the time or energy. His eyes were drawn to the pillow.
"Sorry, Sirius hasn't done laundry in awhile," Lupin chuckled, waving his stick. The bed sheets tore themselves off and replaced themselves with cleaner ones. The man caught the dirty ones in his arms and smiled at the bed. "See you in the morning."
Padfoot bounded forwards and jumped on the foot of the bed as Lupin clicked the door shut. Nico fell into the bed eagerly. By the time his eyes closed, he was fast asleep.
Sirius wriggled his dog form up next to the boy, who's sleeping arm found their way around him. His pale fingers twisted into Sirius' fur. The boy was awfully thin and cold, Sirius noticed with a touch of concern. He wasn't at all pleased by this. Sirius felt bad for the boy- he hadn't wanted to come here in the first place, but now because he had seen headquarters, he wasn't allowed to leave. It wasn't safe. Sirius knew the feeling of being imprisoned somewhere that was falsely warm. Somehow, he found an odd kinsmanship with this strange boy. What he had said back in the house... Nobody wanted you, either? The boy was so lonely. He wondered if anyone had even noticed he wasn't in bed that night. For some reason, he doubted it. His eyes had had a flat, empty glaze of someone who had long ago given up. It was a look he remembered well from Azkaban, and some days he saw it reflected back at him in the mirror. Especially lately. He wanted nothing more than to go out and be in the sun, but even simple things such as that were denied him. Because of a crime he didn't commit.
Sirius sighed, letting out a low woof. The boy's fingers clamped down on him, pulling him close. He felt the beginnings of a trembling sob vibrate in the boy's chest. Sirius wondered why this boy was so sad. For him, it was like looking at himself growing up again. This house only accepted you if you were exactly the same as everyone else in it. He had been the sole Gryffindor, the one who wouldn't be a Death Eater, the one who got his name stubbed out on the family tree. He was the one who never fit in. And Sirius could see the boy felt the same way. Maybe it was a link between two outcasts, or maybe it was just a strange fatherly impulse he had only felt for Harry before.
He wanted to help the boy. But he wondered, recalling the abnormal scarring all over his body, almost deliberate scarring, if the boy would accept his help.
A/N Hey! Thanks for reading! At least, I assume that if you made it here, you probably read this! This is my first fanfiction that I've allowed to see the light of day. I know how it's going to end roughly, and I promise that I won't discontinue or never update again. Anyways, I know it's not too good, but if you leave me a review, I can hopefully improve my writing from here on out. It would mean a lot to me to know how I'm doing! See you next time!