The Sugar Quill
Author: Alkari (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Independence  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.

INDEPENDENCE

INDEPENDENCE

 

 

Disclaimer:  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 thanks:   To the wonderful gals at the SQ workshop, especially Tapestry; and Allemande at the Werewolf Registry.   Your help is always appreciated.

 

Notes:  I have been wondering what – or who – turned Sirius away from his parents and the darker side of life.  After all, raised in that sort of household he ‘should’ have ended up something like Draco, spoilt and very prejudiced.  Yet he seems to have rejected his family’s way of life and beliefs at an early age, certainly before coming to Hogwarts.  After all, a ‘true’ Black would have turned Remus in, once he discovered the werewolf secret.

 

Book 5 tells us that Sirius inherited “a decent bit of gold” from his Uncle Alphard, who was also struck off the family tree, so I decided to combine the two ideas.  Great Uncle Alphard (Sirius would refer to him casually as ‘Uncle’), was the eccentric younger brother of Sirius’ grandfather, and had made an independent fortune in trade with both wizard and muggle worlds.

 

_______

 

 

The wallpaper was a ghastly yellow-brown, ornately patterned in darker browns and greens.  Sirius shuddered.  That would have to go, as would the carpet. He wasn’t quite sure what colour it had been originally, but the current dirty grey-brown was certainly unappealing, to say the least.  The place stank – ancient cooking smells overlaid with a mixture of cat’s piss, strange potions and musty old upholstery.   Just as well there was more than a month of holidays left: even with magic and James’ help, he suspected it would take him some time to get the place clean and liveable.

 

The frowsy old witch who’d shown him the flat had smiled toothily when he expressed an interest in it, and positively blossomed when he turned on his considerable boyish charm.  Yes, they’d had a little difficulty in selling it – it did need a good coat of paint and some work – the last owners had been elderly and never got around to doing much - and yes, they would be more than happy to let him rent the old shed and paved area at the end of the run-down back garden.  There was a gate onto the back lane in the wall nearby; he could use that …

 

Sirius smiled to himself: purchase of a Muggle motorbike was high on his list of priorities, though he’d leave it at the Potters’ while he was at school.  And the flat itself was perfect too, just what he wanted, at a very good price.

 

It occupied almost the entire top floor of a narrow, decrepit-looking building near the river.  Muggle-built, though wizards had owned it for more than a hundred years, and despite appearances it was perfectly solid.  It certainly wasn’t in what his parents would have considered the ‘right’ part of town, but then Sirius had never been concerned with fashion, at least where houses were concerned.  The area’s population was a mixture of Muggles and wizards, and as an added attraction there were dozens of interesting little pubs and eating places nearby.  Handy if you couldn’t be bothered cooking – or were sick of boiled eggs and burnt toast.  He was none too sure about his cooking skills as yet.

 

He turned slowly, letting his gaze wander around his new domain.  The door from the landing gave directly onto a single large room that served as living and dining room; there was a dark brick fireplace in the main wall, and the high sloping ceiling gave the room a sense of space.  Three big dormer windows on the opposite wall faced south-east, and light flooded in.   Well, it would - once he washed them and got rid of those putrid curtains.  To his left, a small hallway led to a narrow but functional kitchen, a bathroom and a linen cupboard; at the other end of the flat were two bedrooms, one a reasonable size, the other barely more than a giant kennel.

 

Best of all, he had a view.   The kitchen and living area looked out over the gardens and rooftops of nearby Muggle houses to the river, with its tree-lined banks and a park on the far side.  True, the bedrooms only had small windows that looked over the back yard to other buildings, but he didn’t feel hemmed in.  He felt – free.

 

Free.   Free of Grimmauld Place, free of his family.  Free to paint his walls bright purple if he wanted, free to invite his friends, to spread his stuff all over the place, to laugh and be happy, to live his own life.  He adored the Potters, knew they loved him and wanted him to stay there much longer.  Mrs Potter washed and mended his clothes, cooked his meals, scolded, fussed and looked after him, just like she did with James.  As though Sirius was another son.

 

But he wanted somewhere he could call his own.  

 

Sirius crossed to the windows, wrenched one open and poked his head out.  He found himself grinning like an idiot.  Uncle Alphard’s will had come as a rude shock to Sirius’ parents, and to his Uncle Rigel and Aunt Elektra, who clearly hoped for suitable legacies for their own children.  Well, Narcissa and Bellatrix anyway – Andromeda was persona non grata in both the Black households.  The family had gathered like vultures to hear his will, and had that caused a ruckus!   The yelling and screaming, the accusations, the insinuations, the trips to their own family solicitors …

 

But the old man had been nobody’s fool. The will had been drawn up by Mr Reginald Hotspur Rumble, and a cannier lawyer never put quill to parchment.  Sirius twisted his head and looked up at the crooked chimney, then back out over the river.  He breathed in the warm summer air, with the faint odour arising from low tide and reedy flats on this side.  Two swans sailed majestically upstream.   How well he remembered the reading of the will last summer, exactly one year and two weeks ago.

 

*     *     *

 

He’d arrived home for the summer holidays after fifth year, enduring yet another diatribe from his mother about his appalling record of detentions.  The abuse had flowed over him, round him, a cacophony of yelling and invective that by now was little more than mere annoyance.  He’d retorted rudely and stormed off to his room, emerging much later for dinner.  They’d have preferred him to stay up there sulking of course, and not have to look at him glowering across the dinner table; but that would give them too much satisfaction, and besides, he was hungry.  So he’d sat there in brooding silence, ignoring his parents’ conversation, and listening to his fool of a brother talking about the wonderful study group they’d formed in Slytherin.   For Defence studies of course …  

 

Sirius refrained from making the obvious comment: they were undoubtedly studying the Dark Arts themselves, not merely Defence.  But of course his parents wouldn’t see anything wrong with that at all.

 

After breakfast next morning he’d announced he was going to visit Uncle Alphard.  He didn’t know why he’d had this sudden urge, but a little inner voice told him that he needed to go now.   His father tried to dissuade him, saying his uncle was not very well, and perhaps the visit should wait a little.  But Sirius had gone anyway.  His uncle had been genuinely delighted to see him, assuring Sirius that the visit would do him the world of good. Sirius had been shocked at the old man’s appearance, grey-skinned, wrinkled and emaciated; he wondered whether his father knew how ill Uncle Alphard really was.

 

The old boy had never made any secret of his dislike for most members of his family, but he had taken to Sirius from the time the two-year-old threw a tantrum and yelled at his mother to “Go WAY!” when she’d tried to part Sirius from his uncle and a Muggle storybook.   Orion and Augusta Black had never approved of Sirius’ frequent visits, but it was not sensible to antagonise the old man … not when he had a fortune in Gringotts and no direct heirs.

 

Sirius had spent nearly the whole day there in his uncle’s bedroom, talking about things – school, his friends, the OWLs he’d taken this last term, Quidditch, girls, books, music, whatever – sharing a simple lunch of soup and cheese and soft bread, reading a book when his uncle dozed off at times.  Mrs McRory had popped in and out, bringing food and drink, glad of Sirius’ strength when they helped his uncle to the bathroom.  Sirius had never seen anyone dying, but as they said good-bye just before dinner, he’d known that this was the last time he’d see Uncle Alphard alive.   Neither could find the right words, so they’d just hugged each other and smiled, knowing there was really nothing more to say.   Three days later, the old man had died peacefully in his sleep.

 

The funeral had been organised with a haste that bordered on disrespect, as Orion and Rigel Black did not wish to make too much fuss of their unconventional relative.   But their efforts had been in vain: word had spread rapidly, and a surprising number of people turned up at the funeral.  Sirius had been secretly delighted to notice his father surreptitiously despatch the odious Kreacher to obtain more food and drink for the wake afterwards.  

 

It was still a proper affair of course, where family members mouthed routine platitudes and glued their sorrowful smiles in place when greeting Uncle Alphard’s friends.   Sirius had met a number of those over the years, and was touched by how many came forward with special greetings and condolences for him.  Despite his own grief, he’d been amused to realise how that offended his parents.  Uncle Alphard would have enjoyed this, he thought, catching a glimpse of his mother’s face as he kissed old Mrs Blatchett from the bakery.  Seeing the family forced to be polite to so many unsuitable people. Including ones who are muggle-born!  

 

He’d had the strangest sense of being two different people.  One Sirius had felt slightly numb and light-headed, as though he was moving through some sort of weird dream.   But the other Sirius had wickedly enjoyed playing the part of dutiful elder son, thinking how much his uncle would have appreciated the humour in the situation.  He’d done it to perfection too, knowing he looked handsome in his dark blue formal robes, greeting and introducing people, smug in the knowledge that his parents would receive only compliments for his impeccable behaviour and consideration for all the guests.  Thirteen Outstanding OWLs yesterday, he thought, and today I’m the image of upper class good breeding and manners.  Not that I wouldn’t have been nice to Uncle’s friends anyway of course.  Maybe I’ll get through the week without another row …

 

Even better was the look on Uncle Rigel’s face as Andromeda arrived with husband Ted and baby Nymphadora.  Sirius had had a sneaking suspicion that his uncle would not have told Andromeda at all, so two nights ago he’d sent his own owl Tycho with a note to her and Ted.   Uncle Alphard would have wanted them there: he’d been so pleased to see Andromeda happily married, and he’d been thrilled at her first child - his great, great niece.

 

Now, two days after the funeral, it was time for the reading of Uncle Alphard’s will.  Sirius trailed dutifully behind his parents as they marched upstairs into the offices of Solomon, Rumble and Foote, solicitors and notaries.   A sternly efficient-looking witch greeted them at the front desk, summoning Mr Rumble’s own elderly clerk to usher them into the darkly panelled meeting room with its imposing table of carved walnut and matching high-backed chairs. 

 

Uncle Rigel and Aunt Elektra were already seated, Narcissa on their left, and Bellatrix and her new fiancé Rodolphus Lestrange on their right.  Why the hell does HE have to be here? thought Sirius.  He’s not family yet.  They only got engaged three months ago.  Have to watch the stupid creep – could be dangerous, though he hasn’t got Bella’s brains.

 

There were perfunctory greetings, the ridiculous black feathered hat worn by his aunt tottering awkwardly as she kissed Sirius’ parents.  That’s right, just a discreet peck on the cheek - it would not be ‘proper’ for her or dear Mother to show any public affection, even if we are the only people in the room.   Sirius did his best to ignore his cousins and Rodolphus, who reciprocated, though they greeted Regulus, their fellow Slytherin.   Sirius took the indicated seat beside his father, Regulus to his right, and allowed his eyes to wander over the paintings on the opposite wall.  Two stern-looking wizards, presumably former partners in the firm, and a gloomy seascape in which the ship was making very heavy weather near a rocky coast.   There were several moments of polite silence, then the door opened again and Mr Rumble ushered three more people into the room.

 

Andromeda and Ted.   Sirius cheerfully ignored the glare from his parents and rose to greet his cousin and her husband: the frigid silence from the other family members was almost tangible.   Uncle Alphard had given Andromeda a generous sum on her marriage to Ted Tonks, to the private fury of her parents.   They’d concealed their opinions from the old man of course – he still had a small fortune left.   The newcomers took seats at the end of the table, and Mr Rumble closed the door and moved to the other end, settling himself with a large scroll, what appeared to be a letter of some sort, a sheet of parchment and a sleek blue quill.  The third person, a plumpish grey-haired wizard in dark grey robes, took a seat beside him.

 

“Good morning, ladies and gentleman,” Rumble said in a surprisingly deep voice.  “Please accept my sincere condolences on your most tragic loss.   May I introduce my partner, Mr Ezekiel Solomon.”  Solomon inclined his head, but said nothing.

 

Tragic loss?  Like bloody hell, thought Sirius.  More like good riddance. They didn’t care a damn for Uncle Alphard, just his money. He kept his face carefully composed, ignoring the venomous glances that Bellatrix shot in his direction.  You and that fiancé of yours –Dark Wizards both of you, or I’m the Harpies’ keeper.   James and I have been keeping an eye on that little Slytherin gang you started.   And at least you’ve got your tits covered today, though your robes couldn’t be much tighter.   Darling Rudi’ll have a few problems if you drape against him too much.

 

“Thank you, Mr Rumble,” said Sirius’ father.  “My uncle’s death was rather unexpected.  He will be missed by all of us.”

 

“Of course, Mr Black,” replied the solicitor in soothing tones.   “Especially as he had no children of his own.  So you and your children – and yours too, Mr Black,” nodding at Rigel, “were his nearest relatives.”

 

There were polite murmurs of acknowledgment.   Not that they care, thought Sirius bitterly.  They only want to know who gets his money.  And how much there is. And they wish this stupid old boy would hurry up and tell them.

 

“If I may be permitted a personal comment, I must say that I too will miss him.”  Mr Rumble bowed his head gravely.  “As you may know, I have acted as Mr Alphard Black’s advisor for more than twenty years, having assumed those responsibilities on the death of my own father.”

 

“Ahem.”  Sirius’ mother cleared her throat pointedly.

 

Rumble’s gaze passed slowly over each family member, before he looked down and slowly, almost ceremoniously, opened the parchment scroll.

 

“Mr Black was, alas, aware that his condition was incurable,” he continued, “and over the last year he took all necessary steps to put his affairs in order.   “He did not wish to be a burden to his family,” Sirius stifled a derisive snort, “and so perhaps he did not confide the seriousness of his condition to you.”   There was another pause.

 

What the hell does he mean – put his affairs in order? thought Sirius.  How difficult can it be to leave his money to his nearest family?  Unless of course – and he felt a surge of wicked hope – unless of course he’s given it all away!  To St Mungo’s or something!  Maybe Mum and Dad won’t get a single knut!  Though – be nice if his uncle had left him something – not gold or anything, though he wouldn’t say no to a few extra galleons – just –well, maybe just that picture of the dragons – and some of his music – his parents would never want those things …

 

“It is true,” said Uncle Rigel unctuously, “that he did not wish us to be worried unnecessarily.”

 

“Quite so, quite so.”  Rumble smiled politely.  He looked around the table again.  “I should at this point assure you that, although his body was failing, Alphard Black’s mind was as sharp and clear as it had ever been.  There is absolutely no question that he knew exactly what he was doing in organising his affairs, and in making this, his last will and testament.”

 

So he HAS left his money to St Mungo's! thought Sirius gleefully, picking up the nuance in language.  Or to a dragon reservation, or a home for elderly homeless Muggles! 

 

He felt his father stiffen slightly beside him.  Obviously the implication was not lost on Orion Black either.  “Naturally.  And I would have expected to be – informed – if there was any question that my uncle’s mind was unstable in any way.”

 

“Of course.”  Rumble nodded again.  “However, when reading a will, I always find it is wise to assure relatives of their loved one’s state of mind where the will is one that I have witnessed.  It is my practice not to witness any documents where I have doubts that a person knows exactly what he or she is signing.  My assurance often avoids any – complications – at a later stage.  Mr Solomon will confirm my assessment.”

 

“In my opinion, Mr Alphard Black was indeed of sound mind and perfectly capable of making a valid will.”  Solomon’s voice was equally grave.  

 

What HAS the old boy done? Sirius felt a sudden twinge of apprehension intrude on the glee.  The family won’t be pleased if the dragons get it.  Not pleased at all - and they’ll probably feel I put him up to it in some way - they know I was close to him …

 

“Thank you, Mr Solomon.”  Orion Black glanced briefly at his wife, then his brother, before turning again to Rumble.  “Perhaps, having had those assurances, we might proceed?”

 

Rumble gazed once more at the Black family members, then flattened the parchment in front of him, and began to read.  His enunciation was clear, precise and emotionless.  Sirius half closed his eyes, trying not to look at his detested cousins.   A lot of boring legal stuff to sit through, no doubt.   Narcissa’s looking a prim and proper little bitch – wonder what sort of charm she’s plastered on that silver hair today? What the hell does Malfoy see in her?  My broomstick has a better figure – it’s probably more intelligent - and I bet it’s a better ride …   He hastily stifled laughter, forcing his thoughts away from Lucius Malfoy’s possible sex life. 

 

This is the last will and testament of Alphard Tremain Black, of Little Croft, Tofton, Surrey.

 

I hereby appoint Reginald Hotspur Rumble and Ezekiel Jacob Solomon, both Solicitors, as my executors and trustees.

 

Aha! So Dad and Uncle Rigel won’t get their hands on the money as quickly as they’d like.  Lawyers take ages to do things. All sorts of paperwork.

 

“… and trustees to pay all outstanding debts and testamentary expenses.

 

After such payments, I bequeath my estate as follows.

 

1.      My personal possessions and the contents of my house “Little Croft” are to be disposed of to the persons named, and in accordance with the instructions I have left, in a memorandum dated 12 April 1975, which is annexed hereto and marked “A”.

 

Rumble paused.   “This is the memorandum,” he said, holding up a second piece of parchment.  “I shall read it at the conclusion of the will.”  

 

2.      My house, “Little Croft”, is to be sold, with the proceeds distributed in the following manner –

 

(a)   A two-thirds share is to be held in trust for the children of my great niece Andromeda Tonks, to be divided in equal portions between them when the youngest shall attain the age of seventeen years.   Should there be no such children, this share becomes part of the residue of my estate.

 

(b)   The remaining one-third is to be held in trust for my great nephew, Sirius Black, until he attains the age of seventeen years.  Should he not attain that age, his portion is to be held in trust on the same basis as in clause 2(a) for the children of Andromeda Tonks.

 

What! thought Sirius, sitting up and becoming very alert.  He’s left me one third of the sale of his house?  Hell … Mum and Dad won’t like that!  That’s got to be a fair bit of gold!  So who gets the rest of his money?

 

3.      I leave the sum of three thousand galleons to Mrs Elspeth McRory, who has been my kind companion and helper during my illness this last year.

 

4.      I leave the remainder and residue of my estate absolutely to my great nephew Sirius Black, upon his attaining the age of seventeen years.

 

5.      Should the said Sirius Black not attain the age of seventeen years, the remainder and residue of my estate is to be divided in equal shares between the British Society for the Study of Magical Languages, the Muggle Relations Institute, and the Werewolf Welfare Foundation.

 

Sirius felt his stomach turn over; there was a strange tingling in his head.  He knew he had heard properly, but surely that couldn’t be right?   Uncle Alphard had left him all the rest of his money?  But … but what about the others?  Didn’t they get anything?  What about his parents – Regulus - Uncle Rigel – Narcissa and Bellatrix …?

 

He snapped back to attention, finding Mr Rumble eyeing him gravely.  Was there a – a hint of a twinkle – in that gaze?   He was aware of the collective shock around the table, of the stiff posture of his father next to him, and he edged his chair backwards very slightly as he straightened up to listen to Rumble’s next words.

 

“There are of course, the usual complex and technical clauses detailing the powers of the trustees.   These are in accordance with usual legal procedures, and will enable us to administer the estate and invest the money for the ultimate benefit of the beneficiaries. 

 

“The will is dated 15th April last and was executed here in this office,” continued Rumble.  “Our secretary, Miss Cecily Herbert, and I were the witnesses.  Miss Herbert has been with the firm for more than thirty years, and was well acquainted with Alphard Black.”

 

The silence was absolute.  Sirius felt an almost insane urge to whoop with laughter, to leap up and hug Andromeda, to dance around the room with Mr Rumble.  Uncle Alphard had cut them all off – he hadn’t left them anything!   Not a single, solitary copper knut!

 

“And my uncle’s personal possessions?”   Rigel Black’s face had gone pale with fury.

 

Imperturbably, Rumble opened the next sheet of parchment.   Alphard Black has left his best green china dinner service and its china cabinet, together with the two long Persian carpets in the front hallway, to Elspeth McRory.  He has left his collection of Muggle tools and machinery, and his Muggle motor car, to Ted Tonks.    He has left the four Highland paintings in his study to his neighbour, Alex Frazer.  

 

“He has left his piano and the large painting of dragons and other magical creatures to Sirius Black. “

 

The piano! And the dragons! Sirius felt a wave of happiness.  He’d practised for hours on that piano, and his uncle had always encouraged him to learn the works of Muggle composers like Bach. Composers whose notes were simply not permitted to sully the hallowed air of Grimmauld Place.   And he’d always loved the painting – that huge, gloriously colourful work that had hung in the living room for as long as Sirius could remember.  Dragons and griffins, sphinxes and hippogriffs, serpents and all manner of other magical creatures.  Uncle Alphard had told him stories about those creatures when he was little, and later listened while a young Sirius had assured him that one day, he too was going to find a dragon or a hippogriff …

 

Abruptly he came back to reality, listening to the steady voice of Reginald Rumble.   “… rest of his possessions, he has requested that Andromeda and Ted Tonks, and Sirius Black, be allowed to choose whatever items they would like, and has then authorised his trustees to sell or otherwise dispose of the remainder in such way as we see fit.  The only stipulation is that we may not give or sell any items to Orion Black, Rigel Black, their wives or their children, apart from Andromeda and Sirius.”

 

“And that is it?” Orion Black’s voice would have cut through diamonds.  “That is – the entire estate?”

 

“The will and the instructions are exactly as I have read.”

 

“And we get nothing?”  Rigel Black stood up, towering over the solicitor, eyes blazing.  “NOTHING at all?”

 

“I repeat, Mr Black, the will and the instructions are as I have read.  Miss Herbert has made copies for each of you, in case you wish to study them.”   He pointed his wand at the door; a bell sounded distantly, and within seconds Miss Herbert appeared and handed him a pile of parchments.  A further flick of his wand sent copies fluttering to each person sitting at the table.

 

“You cannot do this!”  Augusta Black’s voice almost screeched with anger as she got to her feet.  “This is outrageous!  You have no right to do this!”

 

“Mrs Black, I must point out that I have had nothing to do with this matter other than in a purely professional capacity.   I merely drew up the will on my client’s very precise instructions, and saw that it was properly executed.  Alas, I am afraid that Alphard Black himself is somewhat beyond questioning.”

 

Augusta Black’s voice rose to a shriek as she swung round to face Sirius, her hand raised.  “You filthy little … you sneaky … you despicable …   You knew about this, you’ve just been sucking up to him, you miserable, traitorous, scum of a …”

 

“Madam, I must ask you to refrain from such language.”   Rumble’s voice was low, but its authority carried easily over her vituperation, and the angry murmurings of Rigel and his family.  “Mr Black also assured me that neither Andromeda nor Sirius knew anything at all about the provisions of this will.  You have no reason to abuse your son.”

 

“SON?  You call that creature a son?  That deceitful …”

 

Augusta.”  Orion gripped her arm firmly.  “That will achieve nothing.   I suggest we take the copies of the will and consult our own solicitor.” He turned to Rumble.  “I assure you that you have not heard the last of this.   Come Augusta, come Regulus.”

 

Sirius froze, wondering for one horrible second if his mother would hex him as she passed on her way out.  But instead she allowed her husband to take her arm, and usher her from the room. Regulus cast a slightly triumphant look at his older brother which Sirius had no difficulty interpreting – you’ll get it now, Sirius, you just wait! – before following them like a devoted terrier.   Across the table, Rigel and Elektra seemed to be having difficulty deciding whether to curse Sirius, Andromeda or the two solicitors sitting calmly at the head of the table.  Narcissa and Bellatrix were both pale-faced, eying Sirius with absolute loathing as he sank back into his chair.   His mind was whirling.

 

“Good day, Rumble.  You will hear from me.”  Rigel Black rose too, escorting his family from the room without another word.  Sirius had the distinct impression that the door had been charmed not to slam.

 

Andromeda and Ted had not uttered a word, nor moved from their seats.  The Blacks had simply swept past as though they did not exist, and Sirius knew that the family venom would be saved for his own head.  So what’s new, he thought bitterly.  At least I’m supposed to be going to James’ place tomorrow. Though I might have to make a run for it.

 

“Master Sirius?”  Rumble was smiling at him.  “Mrs Tonks, Mr Tonks?   May I suggest a cup of tea?  I am sure you have many questions.”

 

As if reading his mind, Miss Herbert appeared, wafting an enormous silver tray with a teapot, cups and all the trimmings.   A plate of chocolate biscuits, some sponge cake, even some delicate sandwiches.

 

The atmosphere lightened perceptibly as refreshments were distributed.  Sirius swallowed his tea and munched his way through several sandwiches, saying nothing but listening to Andromeda and Ted answering questions from Rumble and Solomon about ten-month old Nympadora.  Yes, she was indeed a bright child, and more than a handful now she was crawling at top speed and trying to walk.

 

After his initial shock and surprise at the reading, Sirius now felt rather – well, confused was perhaps the wrong word – it was more uncertain.  He knew his uncle had loathed most of the family, but leaving the whole estate to him and Andromeda’s children … he’d certainly never expected that.   Not that the family will ever believe me, he thought.  They’ll think I put him up to it, that I only ever went over there because I wanted to make sure he left me some money.  There’ll be hell when I get home - Mum’ll be off her brain – they’re probably off with Uncle Rigel and Aunt Elektra already, working out how to get around it...

 

Abruptly he got up, taking a chocolate biscuit and pacing restlessly around the room, eyeing the pictures and the carved walnut sideboard with its matching bookcases.  Nice lines, he mused, not like some of that hideous old stuff at home with all the trolls’ heads and snakes and everything.  This is nice and sort of elegant.   Like some of that stuff Uncle Alphard has – had rather …   Hell, I’m probably wealthy – wonder how much it all is – but I can’t do anything with it for another year – won’t be seventeen ‘til next March.  And I didn’t put him up to it – we never ever mentioned money – we talked about other things – I could always talk to him - about all sorts of things I’d never ask my parents …

 

He found his eyes misting over suddenly, and swallowed a lump in his throat.  I’m going to miss him.  He was a funny old bugger, but I loved him.  Gave me my first piano lessons, and he paid for my lessons from Professor Lieder when Mum and Dad told me they weren’t going to pay for any more of that Muggle music nonsense.   I’m glad I went to see him the minute I got home from school – no-one told me he was so ill – funny how I just got that feeling I needed to go see him -

 

It was still hard to believe his uncle was dead.  He’d always been a bright spot in Sirius’ life, the only adult family member in whom he’d had any confidence.  And now here he was in the offices of Solomon, Rumble and Foote, slowly coming to the realisation that his uncle had thumbed his nose at the Black family and had the last laugh.  He’d encouraged Sirius’ independence of mind from an early age.  Now he had given him the means to be truly independent at the first available opportunity.  

 

He became aware that the conversation behind him had stopped.  He turned, and found them all watching him. 

 

“Sirius?” said Andromeda gently.  He nodded and resumed his seat, helping himself to the final piece of cake. 

 

“Sorry, Doda – just thinking.”  Doda – hell, his mind must be wandering - he hadn’t called her that in years.   It had been his pet name for her when he was little, unable to pronounce Andromeda.

 

“I imagine you have much to think about, Master Black,” said Rumble.  “And I must offer my warmest congratulations – that is, if my information about your OWLs results is accurate?”

 

OWLs results.  God, he’d forgotten all about those.  Thirteen Outstanding OWLs - his uncle would have been pleased.  He’d told Sirius he’d do extremely well – if he applied himself occasionally.  And he had applied himself, only sometimes it looked as though he and James weren’t really working, because they had excelled with apparent ease at the practical side of things; they’d never had any difficulty with the advanced charms, potions or transfiguration exercises.

 

He accepted the congratulations and handshakes with some embarrassment.  How the hell did they know about his results?  They’d only come out the day before the funeral. At least it had silenced his parents for a few hours – he’d outdone his cousins by a mile.  Even if the subjects did include Muggle Studies.

 

After that, a strange silence fell over the group.  Sirius eyed Rumble and Solomon, hoping they would speak, but it was Ted Tonks who opened the conversation.

 

“Can they set it aside?  The will, I mean.”   Typical Ted, blunt and to the point.  As you’d expect from the son of a Newcastle shipworker.

 

Rumble crossed his hands in front of him and leant back, a strangely satisfied little smile on his face.  “They can try.   But they will not get very far.  There are absolutely no grounds on which they can proceed.”

 

“Aren’t there special laws about that?  You know, allowing people to challenge wills?  My old Dad had a Muggle friend who said they could do that sort of thing. Horrible mess in his family - the friend’s brother ran off and left his wife and three kids.  Then dropped dead one night and they found he’d left all his money to his mistress.”

 

“There are some laws to that effect in the wizarding world as well.”  This time it was Solomon who spoke.  “But they are very limited.”

 

“How limited?”  Andromeda frowned.

 

“The only people who can challenge someone’s will are that person’s wife, husband or – er, other partner.  Or their children.  Parents may challenge a will only if they were dependent on the deceased at the time of death.   Say for example, a person’s elderly mother had been living with them and depended on them for a home and care.  If the child died, the mother could challenge the will if it cut her off without any proper support.”  

 

Sirius digested this and glanced at Andromeda.  “But that doesn’t apply here, does it?” he said.  “I mean, Dad and Uncle Rigel are only Uncle Alphard’s nephews, not his children.   He didn’t have any children.  Didn’t even marry.  And his parents died long before any of us were born.”

 

“Precisely.”  Rumble nodded approvingly.  “And one could hardly say that Orion or Rigel Black were financially dependent on him. As I said, only partners, parents or children can challenge a will, not even brothers or sisters – so nephews and nieces are too distant for that.”

 

“Which means, so are great nephews and great nieces.”  Sirius exchanged a satisfied glance with Andromeda.  But Ted was not so convinced.

 

“They’ll still try something.  What if they say he was insane or something?  Don’t you have to be – whatever they call it – ‘normal’ to make a will?  What if they make out he was mad?  What would happen to the money then?”

 

“He was eccentric, not mad,” Sirius winked at Ted.  “Very eccentric, but never insane.”

 

“You are quite right, Master Sirius,” said Rumble.  “It is exactly what I said earlier – your great uncle knew perfectly well what he was doing when he gave me the instructions for the will.  He was most precise about it, and took great care to check the final document.  My clerk took the notes – we have them on file.  I assure you that he would give evidence that I asked many questions about the instructions, and that Alphard Black was exceptionally clear and considered in his answers.

 

“Your great uncle also, may I say, anticipated some such attempt by your respective parents.  He left me with certain instructions, and made all necessary arrangements in case there was a challenge.”  Sirius had the impression that Rumble was quietly amused by the situation.

 

“What arrangements?  You mean, he expected them to challenge the will?”  Andromeda looked surprised.   But Sirius wasn’t: Uncle Alphard knew his family all too well.

 

“He discussed the possibility, yes.”  Solomon again.  “Certain instructions were given, and a sum of money set aside with our firm to cover such an eventuality.”

 

Sirius had picked up his copy of the will, and was studying the clauses.   He was no lawyer, but he’d worked his way through more than a few obscure textbooks.  Something niggled at him …

 

“Everything in here seems to depend on us getting to the age of seventeen. I mean, if I read this right, Andromeda’s children have to be seventeen before they can get anything – and you can only give out all the money once the youngest is seventeen.  So, Nymphadora won’t get her money when she is that age – if Andromeda and Ted have more kids, you only give out all the money when the last of them are seventeen.”

 

“Quite correct again, Master Sirius,” said Rumble.  “That is, of course, the legal age for wizards.  And if none of them reach the age of seventeen, the money goes to you.”

 

“But I’ve also got to be seventeen. What happens if I don’t make it?”  Sirius sat back, the prospect of an early mortality a little disturbing.

 

“I know Quidditch is a dangerous sport, young man, but I hear that fatalities are rare.”

 

“I’m not talking about Quidditch.  I’m talking about other – accidents.”

 

“Sirius!” exclaimed Andromeda.  “You surely don’t mean …?”

 

“I am quite sure that Master Sirius is not in any immediate physical danger from his family,” said Rumble firmly.  “The clause is a mere formality.”   Yeah, but you don’t know my parents, thought Sirius.  If they could arrange for me to fall down a flight of steps, or have a nasty convenient accident, I’m sure I wouldn’t put it past them – not after today, any rate.  Though I guess it would depend who got the money afterwards.

 

“Well, whatever.  But what happens if I do die before seventeen?”

 

“Your share of the estate would go to the charities and causes listed by your great uncle,” replied Rumble, his lips twitching slightly. “Organisations he thought worthy, but as I understand it, not the sort that would be approved by your parents.”

 

Muggles - Mermish and Gobbledegook and all that stuff - and werewolves? thought Sirius, and he found himself grinning again.  That would be even worse than him inheriting.  “On the other hand, if I remain alive, there is a chance I could take pity on my brother or cousins and decide to make them some gifts, is that it?”

 

“The extent of your generosity after you inherit is, of course, a matter for your discretion.”

 

“But if I did, that wouldn’t really be following his wishes, would it.   I mean – if he’d wanted them to get anything, he would have left it to them. Right?”

 

“I would say it was reasonable to assume that his wishes were those expressed in the will and the letter.  I saw him only a week before his death, you know – and he said he had no intention of changing anything.”  He paused, glancing from Sirius back to Andromeda and Ted.  “I realise it is very soon after your uncle’s death, but perhaps you might all like to suggest a time for inspecting the contents of the house, and the personal possessions?  I need to register the will and details of death with the Ministry, which will take a few days. After that, I am sure matters can be concluded fairly swiftly, as I already have full details of his assets.  You will have a very decent nest-egg, Master Black, as will your cousins when they grow up.  Mr Solomon and I will be pleased to provide you with advice or assistance at any time.  On any matters.”

 

Sirius sat back, folded his arms and studied his uncle’s solicitor.  His solicitor now, it appeared.  Yes, there was a definite twinkle in those shrewd eyes, and he suddenly knew that he and Rumble would get along just fine.  The will was watertight; his parents couldn’t do a single damned thing about it, no matter how much they yelled and punished him; and once he got to seventeen, he’d be able to leave home.    Oh, James was going to LOVE this!  The world was suddenly wonderful, just wonderful.    

 

______________

 

 

 

Further author’s note:   I have NOT forgotten “A Most Unusual Student”, and have been slowly working on making a few changes to various chapters as the result of OotP.   Luckily, there are relatively few changes needed.  I will post those chapters over the next month or so, and try to put an * in the title so readers know they have been updated.  But at the same time I was revising these, I felt I had to get to know the 16 y.o. Sirius.  The boy who ran away from home and his dreadful family must have grown up quickly after fifth year and that OotP scene in the Pensieve.

 

 

//
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