style='font-size:13.5pt; mso-bidi-font-weight:bold'>Disclaimer:<span style="mso-spacerun: yes">
</span>Naturally I do not own JK Rowling’s
characters. <span style="mso-spacerun:
invented them and the wonderful world of Hogwarts. I am just happily visiting
her world for a while.
Author’s Note: Warning – this is a
dark little fic.
The portrait of Mrs Black has haunted me. I think I have read too much
Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde and ‘Saki’.
It hurt. Inside him, gnawing at him, raw,
burning. A deep, jagged, gaping hole
that nothing and no-one could fill.
The acid rose, churning and boiling in
his stomach, and his gut clenched. He was
used to physical pain; that was nothing.
This was different. There’d been
nothing like this for fifteen long years.
He swirled the wine in his goblet. Dark red; blood red and
shiny. But Sirius hadn’t
bled. Not this last time. Nothing. There was nothing. And there was nothing any more inside him.
The stone house was silent.
Only Sirius wouldn’t have a tomb.
There was nothing to bury. Nothing. They’d
buried James and Lily, on a cold, grey long-ago day in November. There were bodies, a tomb and a stone; he
had watched in numb silence as they had been lowered into the damp togetherness
of their eternal bed. And there’d been
time to say good bye.
The fire crackled behind him. A log shifted and sparked, throwing grotesque
shadows onto the kitchen wall opposite.
The shadows of a man, or half a man, sitting hunched at a deserted table
in a deserted house over an almost empty goblet.
He drained the dregs and turned the
goblet over, twisting it in the firelight to look at the ornate family
crest. Finest goblin silver – yeah, Sirius used to say, the Blacks had plenty of that stuff. And Sirius never wanted any of it. Said he’d buy his own goblets, thank
you. But they’d given them to him, that first
Christmas – eight heavy glass goblets, from James and Lily, Peter and Remus, and Fiona.
Enough for all of them to have a drink in that crazy, untidy, yet
comfortable little flat that Sirius called home. And a
couple of spares, Fiona had laughed.
In case you forget to wash up. So they’d drunk and laughed and been happy …
a family … their own family …
He seized the wine bottle, held it
briefly up to the firelight. He could
drown himself in the wine … red wine … blood.
He poured again, hand unnaturally steady as he watched the liquid fill
the heavy goblet to its brim.
“Toujours pur”. Some motto. Sirius had always been scathing about it,
said there was nothing at all pure about the Black family. Well, their bloodlines were pure, but that
meant nothing. Inbred, Sirius used to say.
Inbred and mad. The only decent ones were always burnt off
the family tree. He’d laughed about
Maybe I should do another tree, with all the decent Blacks on
there. Only it wouldn’t be a tree – more
like a stunted shrub …
He swallowed deeply, felt the acid
The family tree. Stuck to the wall of this
infernal house. A mute reminder
of everything Sirius had left behind that long-ago Christmas. Everything he’d wanted to forget. And then last summer they’d come back here …
and Sirius had been shut up again. For
his safety, they said. But it was a
Azkaban. Oh, the Dementors weren’t there to drain him of happiness and hope,
but who needed Dementors when you had this house? The house and the portrait and the family tree
He rose abruptly, clutching goblet and
bottle, and lurched towards the stairs.
Cold stone stairs – like Azkaban,
Sirius had muttered, when they’d first come here. He’d helped Sirius light the fires, had carried
candles and lanterns into bedrooms and kitchen, had
tried to drive away the darkness.
Darkness … there’d always be darkness
now. A void with no
The drawing room was dark, and the lamp
he lit on entering merely seemed to send the shadows back to lurk in the
corners, ready to leap out again on unsuspecting visitors. The tapestry was gloomy. Faded black background, a
dull, heavy-woven fabric that somehow absorbed light, with the bright gold
threads like spider-webs criss-crossing the panel. Lines and dots and letters … names and
connections … branches … leaves … tendrils …
But not for Sirius. The hole was there, darker black on black,
an empty nothingness in the history of the family. Just a hole – a small, round hole – the only
mark of a life, a man, a friendship …
He realised he hated that
tapestry. Hated it with a fierce,
burning hatred he had never felt before.
It hung there silently, mocking him.
The family is still here. We are all still here. And Sirius isn’t. He’s gone.
He was never one of us. And we
will still be here – we are immovable.
We belong to this house. It is
ours. Always. Forever. Pure. Black.
He took a gulp of wine. “He was better than the lot of you!” He hurled the bottle at the tapestry, heard
the thunk! as it hit the hard stone behind the fabric, the dull
shattering of the glass. Watched as the
last of the wine poured darkly down the panel, soaking into the ancient
threads, black wetness becoming darker, darker …
“You know, he would have been the brightest of
all. But you rejected him. And so he left. Because he knew the tree was rotten to the
Wine dripped slowly down the wall, ran
like a trail of blood to the stone floor, pooled and ran into the cracks of the
stone. Shards of glass glittered wetly.
“There’s no-one else now, is
there. Andromeda …Tonks … they were
burnt off too. Narcissa .. she can have the Malfoy tree. It’s just as noble, just as pure. Just as rotten.”
Another mouthful. “Bellatrix. She killed him. Killed her cousin. Bella – means beautiful. But true beauty comes from within. She has a black heart.”
The tapestry was silently mocking. Faded black in a timeworn frame.
“So there’s nobody else really. The end of the Blacks. The tree has died.”
He thought he could hear whispers in
the darkness, echoes of ancestors, voices from the
“A dead tree. Firewood.”
The voices had stopped; the room was
silent once more. He stepped back,
studied the tapestry in its position on the wall. An ancient tree, passing
silent judgment on all who entered and used this room.
“Firewood.” He cocked his head to the side, studying the
tapestry. “Yes … firewood. Warmth from cold hearts.”
He raised his wand; he wouldn’t burn
the house. “Contineo.” The wooden frame glowed dully for a few
Tongues of flame,
licking upwards and inwards from the bottom edge of the frame, eating away at
the ancient fabric. They ran and sparked and glowed, flaring
briefly as they crossed the golden threads, consuming the tree. Moving on upwards, inexorably devouring the
trunk and the branches and the fruits …
1880 … 1620 … 1485 … the years rolled back as the flames rolled
onwards. He thought he could hear the
voices again, but they didn’t matter.
They couldn’t hurt Sirius. Not
There was no window open in this room,
so the smoke hung thickly above the smouldering place on the wall, a dense
cloud that slowly dispersed across the ceiling and sank downwards through the
dead, still air. The heavy drapes would
absorb the smoke and would need cleaning again.
He wondered, oddly dispassionate, if Molly Weasley
would know a good charm for that. He
felt his eyes watering; his nose and throat stung. He sipped at the wine again, spluttering as
its bitterness hit the rawness. He flung
the goblet down, watching as it rolled towards the wall and came to rest against
a piece of glass. Heritage
silver amongst the fragments and the dregs.
He turned on his heel, shutting the
door firmly behind him as he left the room and stepped quietly down to the
hallway. A wave of his wand, and the
lamps either side of the main door spluttered into life. He was aware of figures stirring, faces
peering out of frames, eyes following him, muttered conversations around
him. The Black
He ignored their shouted demands, their
questions about the smoke upstairs, the insults that several hurled at
him. They didn’t matter.
The ornate hall carpets had once been
rich with jewel colours, reds and blues and golds and
greens. In daylight they were faded and
threadbare, but now in the flickering lamplight they glowed with some of their
He stopped in front of the
portrait. Augusta Black. Augusta Clementine Black. She seemed to be asleep, but even as he
wondered at her silence, the eyes opened.
“YOU! Half-breed – unhuman – monster! Defiling my house!”
He’d heard those taunts before. They made no impact on him. He smiled coldly.
“You know, you’re wrong. It is not your house. Not any more.”
dare you! Abomination! Filth!
Scum! Get out! Creature of darkness!”
He stared back. A crone with thinning, grey hair that escaped
in tangled wisps from beneath an ancient cap. Her eyes were bloodshot and
rheumy as she glared at him, spit trickling down the corners of her mouth.
“There are no more Blacks. They are all dead. Your last son is dead.” He discovered his voice was as calm as if
he’d been discussing Hinkypunks.
son died a long time ago. My Regulus. I buried
him.” Her voice rasped - grief, anger, old age.
“You had Sirius too. Only you drove him out.
was not my son! He was NOTHING, a nobody. He
consorted with half-breeds, and with Mudbloods and squibs. Shameful blot on the family! He was a disgrace to the family name -
monster – a stain to be removed.”
“You named him after the brightest
star. And he shone. In
all our lives. But he’s dead
now. His cousin – part of the family you know – she killed him.”
She glared at him, eyes bright with
madness. He could almost hear her raspy,
shallow breathing. Once, long ago, he’d
almost pitied her; he’d been saddened at her blindness and pride and arrogance,
the demands and impossible expectations; the way in which she had driven her
elder son away. Had left him to find his family elsewhere …
He could hear the ripple of
conversation around him, could feel the family members discussing their
argument, voicing their opinions, muttering amongst themselves.
behaviour … Who does he think he is, talking to her
like that? … What does he mean, he’s
dead? Who’s dead? … I told you no good
would come of her throwing him out – where is he now?”
He wondered whether she could hear
out! Get out of my house! He was scum – his friends were scum – filth
and dirt and mud – defiler of the family - he was …”
“I told you. It is not your house any more. It belongs to me. He left it to me.” Yes – and they’d argued about it, but Sirius
had seen right through him as he usually did.
will you stop being so bloody independent.
For once in your life, will you get it through your stupid, thick furry
head that that friends can GIVE each other stuff without it being charity.”
the house should go to Harry, or to Tonks … it’s not right, leaving it to me …
I’m fine, I can manage. And what would I
do with such a house anyway?”
course you can bloody well manage! You
managed when you parents died, you managed when James and Lily died, you’ve managed for years now. You’ll go on managing – I know.
I don’t want you to just ‘manage’. So if I die, you can do what you like with
the house. Sell it and take the money – burn it –
give it to St Mungo’s – I don’t care. I just damn well want to think that my friend will have a dry roof over his
head for once, and a bed that’s more than just an old couch with a couple of
blankets on it. OK? So just shut up. Anyway …” Sirius had grinned wolfishly, “I’m going to stick around and live to a ripe
old age, just to annoy you!” And
Sirius had gone upstairs and made a will, with Moody and Dumbledore to witness
it, and Dumbledore had taken the parchment with him.
ripe old age … thirty eight … was that
ripe? Or old?
He wondered whether his words about the
house would penetrate her screaming insults.
He waited; he was calm now, coldly dispassionate as he studied the
portrait of hate.
“Filthy monster! You have no right to this house … it belongs
to the Blacks … you are not fit to darken its doors … you …
He took in the portrait’s background,
faint details that had remained unnoticed behind the old woman. There was the hint of a stone wall and a
half-open door, but whether the artist had painted anything beyond the door, he
could not discern.
“You heard me. It’s mine now. And I do not want you here.”
They stared at each other. He found he hated her as much as she hated
him. Hated her for what she was and had
been, for what she represented, for what she had done … to Sirius.
“You thought you could stay here,
didn’t you? You thought a Permanent
Sticking Charm would be sufficient. That we couldn’t move you.
But you are wrong. I don’t have
to move you. There is another
solution.” He spoke softly, pleasantly,
as though passing the time of day with a casual acquaintance.
out! Leave my house ..
get out … filthy perverted monster …”
He stepped back, raising his wand
steadily. “Contineo.” Again, the outline of the frame glowed
are you doing … get out … leave … you have no right …” He saw a trace of fear cross her haggard
“I told you. You are no longer welcome here. It’s time for you to go.”
He moved his wand carefully, tracing a
line parallel to the bottom edge of the frame.
“NO!” Her scream rang out as she stared in horror
at the flames that were beginning to lick towards her feet from the edge of the
“You can go,” he said calmly. “There’s a door – a way out - you can leave.
Or you can burn.”
DARE YOU! THIS IS MY HOME! NO!
NO!” She stamped frantically
as a spot of red touched her foot. “NO! STOP IT! PUT IT OUT!”
He shook his head, and raised his hand
in salute. “No. Good bye, Mrs Black.” He watched as she retreated, screaming
obscenities as the flames advanced, beating at them with her ancient, wrinkled
hands. He wondered if her robes would
catch fire next – the smoke was thick around her already.
NO! MY MISTRESS!”
A small figure launched itself past him
at the portrait, clawing its way up the wall to the foot of the picture,
sobbing and yelling. He had forgotten Kreacher.
He leapt forward, but the elf was too
quick for him. Sobbing wildly,
shrieking incomprehensible sounds, Kreacher hurled
himself at the picture … into the
picture somehow … the misshapen figure was screaming as it scrambled across the
painted tiles towards the woman and breasted the flames. They were larger now, hotter and fiercer as
they took hold of the frame and surged upwards across the old, oil-based
The old crone was backing away …
beating at her smoking robes, kicking out with black-shod feet as the flames
ran across the floor of the portrait and flared around her. Her eyes were wild, her face demented; she’d lost
her cap and her hair streamed down over her shoulders, grey wisps like
still clawed his way towards her, but she was kicking out at the tiny figure …
at the flames … they roared higher and the smoke obscured his view of the scene
even as he grabbed desperately at the flailing elf.
“MISTRESS! MY MISTRESS!”
A vicious tongue of flame leapt out,
forcing him back from the wall: the fire was roaring up the old, dried
paint. He could see the old lady
backing towards the painted door … saw Kreacher
somehow frantically clutching at the hems of her robes … saw her lash out at
him and send him flying across the painted room … heard a despairing,
high-pitched scream …
And then the entire portrait was
engulfed in flame, a brilliant sheet of fire that lit the entire hall, flashing
orange and red from the window panes and the small oval mirror at the end of
the hall. He thought he heard a woman’s
voice give a final, distant wail, but he couldn’t understand what she said –
and anyway, it didn’t matter now.
Perhaps she’d managed to go through the open door, but he found he
didn’t care …
He stepped forward and seized the
curtains that used to screen the portrait, wrenching them from their tracks and
thrusting them into the middle of the blazing frame, watching as they too
caught fire and disintegrated into grey, stinking ashes.
The heavy frame fell with a sudden
crash, sending him jumping back again as it broke into charred fragments on the
floor. There was a shower of tiny
sparks, and he doused a flicker of new flame with a brief murmur of “Aqua”.
The water hissed into a cloud of acrid steam, and a small trickle ran
slowly under the nearest rug.
And then there was nothing. Nothing but a blackened, stinking
section of stone wall, with no trace of canvas or paint or living being. The smoke drifted and swirled slowly along
the hallway, the faint draught from under the front door moving it in strange
patterns among the other portraits and up into the heavy-beamed ceiling.
The voices had stopped. There was a strange silence, as though the
house was waiting for something, someone.
But old Mrs Black had gone, and there would be no more Blacks in this
house. The last of them had died today.
* * *
The kitchen fire had burnt low, and he
drained the rest of his mint tea. It had
been warm and soothing, and his stomach had settled. He’d need to get some more today; the stocks
were getting low. Perhaps he should ask Poppy
Pomfrey to send him some more of that special tea she
used to make for him after full moons. He’d always been grateful for her little
He heard the front door open and close,
and after a while footsteps descended the stairs behind him. Yes, he supposed they’d need a meeting today,
though he’d really hoped they would not arrive until later. He turned: Dumbledore and Mad Eye were
standing there, just looking at him.
He frowned: why were they looking at
him like that? He ran a hand across his
chin and smiled faintly – of course, he hadn’t bathed or shaved this
morning. He’d always prided himself on
looking clean and tidy, no matter how tatty his robes.
“Good morning,” he said
Lupin was always polite. “You’re just in
time for breakfast. I’ll make a new pot
of tea. There’s plenty of bread – would
you like some toast?”