Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter or the works of Jane Austen, which largely inspired this fanfic. It will contain slash, but nothing too graphic.
An Untimely Death
The great turrets and towers of Albeywick Estate seemed to droop forlornly against the backdrop of rolling gray fog. It was the rainy season in the country of Somersetshire, and while the emerald green hills soaked up the rain with gratitude, the roads became nearly impassable. The sombre, melancholy rainstorms suited the mood of the estate, and in particular, the mood of one Mr. Snape. His mentor and old friend, Albus Dumbledore, lay in his death bed with magical pneumonia and little hope of recovery.
With a heavy heart and a scowl to match, Mr. Snape entered the bed chamber and pointedly did not look at the life-size painting of Lord Dumbledore's only daughter, a willful, red-headed child named Lily, who had proceeded her father in death some seventeen years before and now lived above the roaring hearth. Portrait Lily now spent her time smiling mysteriously over the topmost edge of her book and occasionally moving to her oil-painted window to gaze out longingly at far-off places. Mr. Snape hated this particular painting, and made it a point to ignore her teasing smiles and coquettish grins. He remembered the real Lily as vividly as if he'd just seen her an hour or so before, and he felt the oil painting was a flat and poor imitation, as well as a painful reminder.
Lord Dumbledore, however, was very fond of the painting. As he lay coughing in his bed, his trembling, long fingers occasionally reached towards the girl's likeness, as if his departed daughter would exit her frame and come to sooth him, perhaps even ask for forgiveness for her disgraceful elopement. Mr. Snape knew that this was as impossible an idea as the portrait regaining life; Lily had followed her heart without mercy, and would have never returned to her father or bowed to his wishes. There was too much of Lord Dumbledore's pride in her for that.
Mr. Snape transferred the potion he brought into a crystal goblet and sat beside the dying man. Lord Dumbledore's skeletal hand grasped Mr. Snape's forearm with all the strength of a babe.
"Have you found him, my dear boy?" Lord Dumbledore asked, as he always did. Mr. Snape could only shake his head.
"This detective came highly recommended, my Lord. I expect news from him any day now," Mr. Snape assured. Lord Dumbledore nodded and dutifully drank his potion. The magical pneumonia that sapped strength from Lord Dumbledore's magic reserves and his lungs could be kept at bay with the complicated potions, but not cured. Even the potions were reaching their limit of effectiveness. Mr. Snape silently assessed the small scabs left from where Lord Dumbledore picked at his fragile skin, and at the bluish puddling of blood on the undersides of his arms. He did not have long. Another hacking cough filled the bed chamber and Mr. Snape winced. He did not abandon his post, however, and remained by the old man's side until he slipped back into an uneasy slumber. Mr. Snape sat for a long while gently cooling Lord Dumbledore's forehead with a cloth and ignoring Lily's playful whispers.
It was all her fault he was in this mess, and if the knowing, mischievous look in her green eyes was anything to judge by, this fact she knew well. With a sigh and an empty goblet, Mr. Snape left Lord Dumbledore's side and returned to the study, searching the stormy skies in vain for an owl from the detective.
Detective Lupin pursued the truth in his investigations with the tenacity of a dog on a meat bone. He was not the first private investigator to be hired by Lord Dumbledore to locate the elderly man's only surviving heir, but he was determined to be the only one who was successful. A former London Peeler, Detective Lupin had left the force filled with disdain for the rampant corruption and the brutish natures of his co-workers. He had since been very successful in an independent practice, which also suited him well due to his unfortunate and secret malady: a curse that transformed him monthly into the form of a beast.
As much as the beast cursed him, it also offered him aide. Though Detective Lupin could have done without his overly sensitive nose in the muck and filth of Cheapside, he very much valued his sensitive hearing, which had clued him in to a conversation about a stable boy who fit this missing heir's description quite well. None of his predecessors had been willing to dirty their shoes and offend their noses with a journey into muggle Cheapside's bowels, but Lupin knew the missing heir would not be found in the lap of luxury. His mother had eloped with a poor soldier, who died in the Goblin Rebellions not long after. She had been penniless and had fallen gravely ill in the smog and the filth of London, too delicate and noble to survive in such conditions. She had dispatched an owl to her wealthy father (who had disowned her) only to plead that he consider his grandson's well-being, though she did not ask forgiveness for herself. She birthed the child and died, and even as the owl reached Lord Dumbledore, the babe was swept up into the underbelly of London as swiftly as raw sewage running from the streets into the Thames.
Lupin was also grateful to the beast within as it made him sharp and strong, which was necessary to survive in the dark, crooked streets of Cheapside at night. Lupin followed the trail, his illuminated wand tip barely penetrating the blackness. The city's thousands of chimney pots belched filthy air into the sky, and horse manure caked the roads like a second layer of cobble stone. The magical parts of London were, of course, cleaner and much more enjoyable places to visit, but Lupin did not think his prey was to be found in magical London. No, he expected to find young Harry Potter in the filthiest, dirtiest part of town—the industrialized, muggle district of Cheapside, teeming with the poor and hopeless.
From a pitch black alcove, a girl of merely fourteen limped forward, and Lupin hastily extinguished his wand. She held a lumpy wax candle, which illuminated her revealed bosom and her filthy rags.
"Farthings for your pleasure, Sir," she offered. Her rail-thin arms were scabbed and her hair hung lankly about her face in oily tendrils. Lupin's nose twitched in disgust at her smell, and he stood quite far from her. He reached into his pocket and found a few muggle coins amidst his wizarding money, a small amount to him, but a fortune to the girl. She would eat for weeks. He held it out to her, and she approached, looking both fearful, resigned, and grateful at once. Her young hand went to his waistcoat and he stopped it there.
"None of that now. Take this and get home. It is too late for a girl to be on the streets," Lupin said as he gave the girl the coins. Her eyes widened in shock and she looked at him like a startled deer, frozen in place. With a kindly smile, Lupin nodded towards the alley she'd emerged from. "Run along now...but first, might I ask if you've seen a young stable boy in these parts? Seventeen years or so? Black hair, green eyes?"
"You mean Harry, maybe?"
"Yes, that's him," Lupin replied, carefully schooling the eagerness out of his voice. She eyed him suspiciously a moment (it was not the habit of the poor to offer witness to the Peelers) but she clenched the coin in her hand and pointed off down the crooked street.
"You'll find him that way. He sweeps at this hour."
"Thank you, miss," Lupin said cordially as he continued on his way. The girl disappeared in the blackness of the alcove as speedily as she'd emerged. Moving more quickly, Lupin hurried along until he spotted him—a scraggly, malnourished looking lad hunched tiredly over a large sweeper broom. He pushed ineffectively at the stinking manure and hay on the streets, toiling under the weak, greasy light of a lone gas lamp.
"Harry?" Lupin asked gently. Startled, the boy glared fiercely, clutching the broom as if he intended to use it as a weapon.
"What do you want?" the heir demanded harshly. Lupin held up his hands bracingly, showing that he was unarmed.
"I don't mean to hurt you, but I've been hired to find you, lad," Lupin explained. Harry carefully eyed Lupin's good clothes and his clean hands. He was clearly not from Harry's social class. The raggedy boy studied his blue overcoat and reached a conclusion about Lupin's profession.
"You're a bloody Peeler! I haven't done anything!" Harry protested, dropping his broom and retreating quickly. Detective Lupin could only curse under his breath and tear of after the boy, unwilling to lose him now that he'd finally tracked him down. A muttered tracking spell made his task much easier, and he slowed his pace to make the boy think he'd been successful in losing him.
He continued along, past drunkards and thieves, whores and beggars. Mr. Snape was not going to be happy to learn his future ward had been found in such a place. Detective Lupin hoped the boy was not a criminal or a common brute. It would be a recipe for disaster to give such a man the kind of inheritance Harry Potter had been willed—he'd drink and gamble away his mountains of galleons in mere months.
It was not Lupin's job, however, to worry about what would happen after he'd located the heir. That was Mr. Snape's considerable problem. He just had a job to finish, and an heir to transport.
He tracked the boy to an overcrowded tenant house, swarming with rats and fighting couples. Lupin canceled the spell and knocked upon a nondescript door. A towering man answered, as mean looking as he was big.
"What do you want?" the monstrous man demanded, filling the door frame with his size. Detective Lupin grimaced and hoped this did not turn into a physical altercation.
"I'm looking for a young lad—black hair, green eyes—goes by the name of Harry," Lupin said. The man scowled.
"What'cha want him for?" he demanded, his piggy eyes clearly taking in Lupin's good dress and monied look. Knowing a greedy pig when he saw one, Lupin changed tactics.
"Hand him over without any questions and I'll give you forty pounds for the boy," Lupin offered, unhooking a money pouch from beneath his greatcoat. The fat man's eyes lit with greed and his stomped off, without so much as a word, and returned with a squirming, protesting boy firmly in hand. The boy seemed accustomed to such treatment, though he fought, and his arms were littered with bruises to suggest he was frequently fighting against someone bigger and meaner. Ignoring the boy's smell, Lupin tossed the fat man the money pouch and took the protesting boy into his arms, clapping a potion drenched handkerchief over the boy's mouth and dragging him along until he went completely limp. A whispered levitation charm, and Lupin easily hoisted the boy over his shoulder.
He navigated out of Cheapside without further incident, hired a magical carriage quickly despite the lateness of the hour, and was on the road to Somersetshire with the missing heir safely in tow. His search of three months was finally at a successful end.
Ginevra Weasley's eyes lit with glee as the elegant Draco Malfoy descended from his Barouche with all the grace of a boy who had just spent two years studying at the prestigious Beauxbatons Academy in France.
Of course, Malfoy was not paying her a visit—such a thing would suggest engagement or romantic attachment (not that Ginevra wouldn't welcome it) but Malfoy had come to call on her elder brother, Ronald. This, she well knew, was just a cover for visiting her. Draco Malfoy was a dandy and a young man of the utmost refinement. Ronald Weasley cared only about hunting, chess, and dogs, and associated with the young Malfoy heir merely because they were of the same age and station in life. Ronald's prized dogs yapped about his feet and the wheels of Draco's splendid, customized Barouche, causing the six, flawless white horses to prance in place and eye the dogs nervously.
"Hello, Draco," Ron greeted amicably enough. He didn't seem to care either way that Draco had returned from France, but Ginevra could hardly contain herself. Draco shook Ronald's hand firmly and bowed elegantly to her, flashing her a knowing grin. Ginevra nearly swooned. Draco had grown even taller and handsomer while overseas, and he was dressed in such perfection that her brother looked like a boorish farm hand by comparison. Ginevra was almost embarrassed by him.
"Radiant as ever, Miss Weasley," Draco complimented easily. Ginevra blushed and delighted that he was back in Somersetshire. It had been so boring without him around to host dances at his parents' summer estate and to gossip with her about the ladies and men of their country town. As if he'd never left, the three young purebloods entered Burrows Estate and retired to the drawing room, all while Draco talked of his time abroad.
"I don't see the point in it. Hogwarts is a fine school, if you care for schooling. Why go all the way to France?" Ron asked as he set up the chess board. He enjoyed a game with Draco even if he enjoyed little else about the blond's company.
"You wouldn't understand, Ronald. Some of us enjoy the finer things in life. Some of us have taste," Ginevra replied dismissively. Draco winked at her.
"I have brought you a gown like you've never seen—it's the style in Paris now. Your mother will think it scandalous," Draco promised. Ginevra beamed in delight.
"I will wear it to the ball that is to be held at Churchill in a fortnight. Will you be attending, Draco?" she asked hopefully.
"Longbottom's place? I suppose I'll have to go. I've grown accustomed to all the parties in Paris. I'll die of boredom here if I don't attend absolutely every ball this summer," Draco drawled lazily. Ronald rolled his eyes.
"Balls are tiresome things," he opined. Ginevra scowled at him.
"You, dear brother, are a tiresome thing. You care only for your smelly dogs. How you'll find a wife when you're such an atrocious dancer is beyond me," she said with a feigned flippancy. As always, Draco found her girlish ways amusing, and he grinned at her forwardness.
"Now you must tell me what I've missed these two years, Ginevra. Has old Lord Dumbledore found his heir? How is his health?" Draco asked.
"No, though it's rumored Mr. Snape invested very heavily in a new investigator from London. His search grows more desperate as Lord Dumbledore gets weaker. Lord Dumbledore never leaves his estate now—he hasn't been seen in nearly a year, though father does go to call on him and says he is very ill," Ginevra said. Ronald moved his piece and it destroyed one of Draco's mercilessly, causing the red-head to grin and Draco to scowl.
"I wonder if Mr. Snape will part with that Thoroughbred of Lord Dumbledore's before the fox season. Mr. Snape will surely have no use for him—shame to waste such a fine animal," Ronald mused. Draco's scowl changed into a gleeful grin.
"No, Mr. Snape has no use for a fine horse. He much prefers to clop about on that old Suffolk Punch of his, as if he were some common farmer," Draco teased. Ginevra snickered into her hand and Ronald failed to see the humor.
"The Suffolk Punch of his is a sturdy enough horse, but you can't get the speed out of a Suffolk for a good hunt," Ronald said as he claimed another of Draco's pawns.
"Either you've gotten better Ronald, or I have gotten worse," Draco joked, his displeasure only barely masked. Without sensitivity, Ronald offered a quick reply.
"You've gotten worse. Don't they play chess in France?"
"Hardly. They have elegant parties and dance till the morning light," Draco gushed, causing Ginevra's eyes to light with reverence.
"Oh, Ron, do you think father would let me attend Beauxbatons?" she asked wistfully.
"You simply must, Ginevra. Hogwarts is so plebeian these days—I can't tell you how deeply I regret attending my first five years there."
"That's a silly idea, Ginny. Ladies should be home schooled. You have no place in a boarding school. Only unmannerly girls attend Hogwarts," Ronald parroted, sounding very much like his father. Ginevra and Draco's eyes, however, lit with glee.
"Is that so, brother? You would suggest such a thing to Miss Granger?"
Instantly, Ronald's cheeks flushed with color and he scowled.
"That's different. She's brighter than any wizard. Of course, it would have been much better for her to be schooled by Lady Fudge," Ronald replied. His companions exchanged knowing looks. Ronald's admiration for Hermione Granger had been obvious since her family first moved to Locksley Cottage. Feeling embarrassed, Ronald desperately tried to change the subject.
"Colonel Black is back from the war front for good. We're to go riding next week," Ronald said. Draco made only a mild noise of interest. He cared nothing for the seemingly endless Goblin rebellions and territory wars with the Giants, though Ronald would talk with Colonel Black for hours about defensive strategy and magics. It was highly tiresome in Draco's opinion.
"Draco doesn't care for boring talk of war, though it might interest you to know Lavender Brown struck a rather fortuitous engagement with the Colonel. We all knew he'd settle down eventually, though none expected him to choose a witch," Ginevra gossiped. Draco was mildly intrigued by the unexpected pairing, but it had only been rumor that said Colonel Black preferred the company of wizards.
"Miss Brown is lucky—the fortune in that match is all for her," Draco paused and his attention drifted to the piano. "Ginevra, do tell me you still play. I scoured France and I promise I found no lady with a sweeter voice and a gentler hand on the pianoforte," Draco flattered. Flushed with pleasure at his praise, Ginevra quickly moved to the room's piano and would have begun to play, if a carriage passing down the muddy road had not caught her eye. She moved like lightening to the window.
"I do believe that to be Detective Lupin, returning to Albeywick. Do you think he's found the heir?" she asked excitedly. Abandoning the game (much to Ronald's displeasure) Draco joined Ginny at the window and squinted at the carriage fading into the distance, no doubt headed towards the country's largest estate.
"I certainly hope so, though if he has, Mother will write to me instantly and insist I court him."
"Everyone will seek to court him," Ginevra replied knowingly (and only sounding a little jealous). Draco offered her a bold wink.
"Well, regardless of what Mother says, I have my eye on someone else. Not even Lord Potter with all his galleons could tempt me away."
Ginevra flushed with delight and Ronald merely rolled his eyes with a long-suffering sigh.
"If he has found him, I hope he's decent in chess and will part with that Thoroughbred. You two are driving me to desperation."
"I hope he's been abroad, and dresses in all sorts of interesting fashions. Do you think he'll be a good dancer?"
"Oh, the very best, I'm sure. He might have even been in France all this time. Ginevra, we must be certain to welcome him to the neighborhood and help him to avoid falling in with undesirable company," Draco mused casually. Ginevra snickered.
"Mr. Malfoy, you forget with whom he'll be living. I'm afraid undesirable company is unavoidable in his present situation."
"Too right, Ginevra. Then I hope he is near eighteen, and able to rid himself of his ward sooner rather than later. No good can come from surly Mr. Snape's influence, mark my words."
"Are we going to finish this game or not, Draco?" Ronald demanded, distracting the aristocrat away from the window, and prompting Ginevra to return to the piano.
Oblivious that his carriage was being observed, Harry Potter fussed nervously with the uncomfortable clothing Lupin had brought for him. It was impeccably clean, and Lupin had pelted him with a barrage of those funny spells that made his skin tingle and his hair stand on end. There wasn't even horse manure under his nails anymore, and Harry thought for years it had been a permanent stain on his skin.
It was all so utterly fantastical that Harry still could not believe he was not dreaming.
"How do you know I'm this Lord's missing grandson again?" Harry asked, his skepticism obvious. While any other young boy would salivate at the idea of coming into a massive inheritance, Harry had been so harshly treated by life that he could not believe such good fortune truly possible. He thought it much more likely that he would get a taste of wealth, enough to desire it desperately, and then have it cruelly snatched away when it was discovered that he was nobody special after all.
"You are Harold James Potter, correct? Your mother was named Lily? Your father was in the army and died in the Goblin Rebellion of 1823?"
"Well, yes, but..."
"Then you are the missing heir. I have seen your mother's portrait and your father's likeness—you are clearly their child. Those eyes could belong to no one else but Lily Potter. Besides, I am an investigator of the highest quality. I always get my man," Lupin said with a kindly wink.
Harry, however, was not comforted and continued to worry his bottom lip.
"I am to be a ward, you say? And learn...you know..."
"Yes," Harry said, his eyes lighting with a bright, innocent joy. Remus smiled. Despite some unavoidable coarseness in mannerisms, Lupin thought Mr. Snape would be pleased with Harry's character. The boy was straightforward and intelligent, boldly curious and brave, with an almost impulsive sweetness about him that Lupin marveled at, considering his upbringing. Mr. Snape would certainly not have an easy go of shaping the lad into a gentleman, but it was hard to dislike the boy, for all his earnestness and wide-eyed wonder. He'd known nothing of his magical heritage until Lupin had explained the world of witches and wizards, as well as the use of wands, spells, and potions.
Of most importance, Harry had been introduced to cleaning spells. Loads of them.
"Lord Dumbledore," Remus offered.
"Lord Dumbledore...he's dying? There's no hope for him?" Harry asked concernedly. Lupin frowned and reluctantly had to nod.
"It is his dying wish to see you, Harry. It has pained him greatly that he has not had his daughter's company all these years. It was her wish, and Lord Dumbledore shares it, that you should be returned to your proper place in society."
"But if it's so wonderful being rich, why did my mother run away?" Harry asked astutely. Lupin smiled.
"Love, as I understand it. Your father was stationed in town and she fell madly in love with him. He took her to London and set her up there, but they were poor and when he died, she was already to ill to return home."
"I knew she died giving birth to me, but I never knew they were a witch and wizard. I thought my father died in an American war."
"Magic is your heritage and your birthright. You will be an accomplished wizard in no time under Mr. Snape's tutelage, I'm sure."
"But what about—" Whatever question Harry had been about to ask was interrupted when Lupin harshly knocked on the top of the carriage, and they came to a lurching stop. Lupin darted out of the carriage, uncaring of the mud, and began retracing their path. Curious (and also uncaring of his new boots) Harry exited the carriage and trailed after the investigator.
When he caught up, Lupin was staring down at a crime scene. The victim had been shoddily buried, and the rains had partially unearthed him, making him visible from the road. He wore fine clothes and in Harry's estimation (who, sadly, had seen such a thing many times before) appeared to be the victim of robbers. Harry frowned and took a step back—he was not comfortable around corpses, but Lupin crouched over the body and carefully shifted through his clothing. From his inspection, he retrieved a longish, black hair and the initials P.P.
"Is this common out here?" Harry asked. He'd always thought the rich didn't have to deal with horrid crimes and murder.
"Highly uncommon...and rather unusual. I wonder...you see, it's very strange that...hmm. Perhaps I'll stay in town a little longer than I planned," Remus concluded. He accepted a spare saddle blanket from the coachman (who said a short prayer for the victim) and draped it respectfully over the body. Remus cast a spell to preserve the body and ward off animals. It would have to do until he could return to bag up the body properly. As for now, he had to deliver young Harry to his grandfather. Lord Dumbledore's time was short, and the victim certainly wasn't going anywhere.
"I can't suppose that to be a good omen—finding a corpse on the way to meet my grandfather," Harry remarked glumly. Typically optimistic, even Lupin could not disagree with him.
"Let us travel quickly then," Lupin said, nodding determinedly at the coach driver. They set off again, this time at a much faster clip, just as a heavy rain began to sweep over the countryside.
A/N: I primarily write Hetalia fanfiction, but my inspiration has been kind of low on that front and I had the idea to write a Harry Potter fanfic set during Regency England (a.k.a. A Harry Potter story in Jane Austen times.) Of course, I took huge liberties with family trees and alliances, but I hope you enjoy it regardless. Next chapter, Harry meets his caretaker...and a possible love interest?