The Sugar Quill
Author: Alkari (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Toast  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

TOAST

TOAST

 

 

<o:p></o:p></span><span 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: yes"> </span>She 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.

 

Sirius.

 

Sirius Black.

 

Padfoot.

 

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.  A tomb.  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 it.  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 churning again.

 

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 prison.  Another 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 stars.  Eternal darkness.  Death.

 

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 core.”

 

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 blackness beyond.

 

“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 seconds. 

 

Incendio”.

 

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 now.

 

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 family.

 

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 former glory.

 

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.”

 

“How 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.

 

“My 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.

[MSOffice1] 

“He 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.    

 

“Shameful 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 them.

 

Get 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.

 

“Moony, 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.

 

“Sirius, 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?”

 

“Of 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.

 

“But 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.  

 

A 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.

 

Get out!  Leave my house .. get out … filthy perverted monster …”

 

He stepped back, raising his wand steadily.   Contineo.”   Again, the outline of the frame glowed briefly.

 

“What are you doing … get out … leave … you have no right …”   He saw a trace of fear cross her haggard face.

 

“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.   “INCENDIO”.

 

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 frame.

 

“You can go,” he said calmly.  “There’s a door – a way out - you can leave. Or you can burn.”

 

HOW 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.

 

MISTRESS!   MISTRESS!   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 paint. 

 

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 smoke.  Kreacher 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 Christmas parcels.

 

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 pleasantly.  Remus 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?”

 

 

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