The Sugar Quill
Author: Jolie Black (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Summer of the Phoenix  Chapter: Chapter 1
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Chapter 1

The Summer of the Phoenix

 

 

A prologue to “The Order of the Phoenix

 

 

 

 

“We’ve set up Headquarters somewhere undetectable. It’s taken a while…”

(Remus Lupin to Harry in “The Order of the Phoenix”, Chapter 3)

 

 

 

 

Have you ever wondered how No. 12 Grimmauld Place was established as Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix? Have you ever wanted to see a meeting of the Order, and how they came to accept Sirius back into their ranks? Have you ever asked yourself how they came to guard the Department of Mysteries, and why the Weasleys moved into Headquarters with their children and Hermione? How the Order reacted to the news of the Dementor attack on Harry? And why Harry didn’t get the “better welcome” he was expecting when he finally arrived at Grimmauld Place?

 

In short: Have you ever wished that “The Order of the Phoenix” had come with a prologue?

 

It does now. The answers are here.

 

Bridging the gap between the end of “Goblet of Fire” and the day Harry arrives at Headquarters at the start of “Order of the Phoenix”, this story tells – from Sirius Black’s point of view - of the rebuilding of the Order and life at No. 12 Grimmauld Place during the summer of 1995 - the Summer of the Phoenix.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Night had descended on Grimmauld Place. The gloomy orange street lamps added only little light to that of the waxing moon in the cloudy sky above. The square itself was deserted. A slight breeze rustled through the withered trees around it.

 

There was a particularly strong gust of wind – and two figures appeared at the north-eastern corner of the square, as if the wind had blown them there. They were the figures of a man and a dog, walking side by side down towards the southern side of the square. The man wore a shabby old trench coat and trainers. His hair was grey, but it seemed to have greyed prematurely, since his face, although rather thin and lined, was that of a man not much past forty. He seemed to be muttering to himself, but as he drew nearer it became clear that he was talking to his dog, like lonely people talk to their pets when they have no other friends.

 

“Here we are, then. Number twelve, was it? The one over there, with the dark brick façade and the windows boarded up on the ground floor?”

 

He paused, as if expecting the dog to reply, but the dog, a big, shaggy black creature, stood quite silent and motionless, contemplating the house the man had indicated.

 

“Right, then,” said the man. “Looks like we’re early. Let’s take a little walk around the square while we wait, shall we?”

 

“Wait for whom?” a deep voice growled behind them.

 

The man in the trench coat whipped round, reaching into his coat, but the moment he came face to face with the speaker, he relaxed immediately and even smiled, if still a little nervously. The appearance of the newcomer, however, was not of a sort that would usually invite smiles, even nervous ones. He was an elderly man, wearing a long black travelling cloak over his slightly hunched shoulders and a bowler hat that sat lopsidedly on his grizzled dark hair, covering his right eye – but it could not conceal the fact that the man had a large chunk missing from his nose, as if it had been bitten off by a ferocious dog. Perhaps that was the reason why he was eyeing the black dog next to the younger man rather suspiciously.

 

“Waiting for me, were you? I was waiting for you. Where are the others? And what did you bring that dog for?”

 

“Just for company. Nice to meet you, Alastor.” The younger man offered his hand to the newcomer, who didn’t take it.

 

“We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, Lupin,” he growled instead.

 

“We don’t,” confirmed Lupin, and his smile widened. “Only we figured we’d attract far more attention if we had Sirius Black wandering around the heart of London in his usual form.”

 

Alastor Moody let out a low rasp of breath that sounded almost like a laugh. “Oh yes, of course,” he said. “Dumbledore told me. Brilliant achievement for a fifth year student, by the way. So this is what you look like,” and he gave the dog a gruff but good-natured pat on the head. “You’d better wait until we’re inside then. And if that old crook doesn’t turn up this instant, we’re going without him.”

 

“He’ll come,” replied Lupin.

 

“He’d better be quick about it,” Moody muttered. “We can’t stand here forever… got to keep moving… not linger in one place too long, makes you vulne  over here, quick!” The last words were spoken in an urgent whisper, and Moody caught the other man by the sleeve and pulled him out of the circle of light from the street lamp they’d been standing under.

 

A third figure had appeared on the far side of the square, looking even more like a shabby tramp than the other two, with his mop of ginger hair and unshaved face. He walked straight towards them across the brownish patch of lawn in the middle of the square, his hands deep in the pockets of his coat, which seemed to be several sizes too large for him.

 

“About time,” Moody growled as he stepped forward to meet him.

 

“’Evenin’, guv,” the other replied, not bothering to take his hands out of his pockets. “Now, where’re we s’pposed to go? An’ what’s the dog doin’ ‘ere?”

 

“Never you mind,” Moody said. “We’ve got to get a move on. Let’s see if we can get in.”

 

He turned his back on the others and opened the wrought-iron gate that led to the door steps of number twelve.

 

“Too much light,” he muttered, looking up sourly at the street lamps, but then he shrugged and moved up the steps.

 

The others followed, grouping around the large black front door with the brass No. 12 on it, the figures blind with age. The door had neither handle nor keyhole, but there was a large door knocker in the shape of a twisted serpent in the centre of it, and a frayed bell string that looked as if it might crumble in the hand of whoever touched it.

 

 “You’d better check if the coast is clear,” Lupin whispered.

 

“That’s what I’m doing,” Moody replied, staring at the door, and then moving his gaze to the left, to the right and up to the windows of the first and second floor. “No sign of any living creature, beast, being or spirit,” he reported.

 

D’you reckon we’re safe then?” the man with the ginger hair asked.

 

“I can see through closed doors, not into the future, Mundungus,” Moody replied irritably. “Never reckon you’re safe, anywhere or any time.”

 

He drew out his wand and pointed it at the door. Alohomora.”

 

Nothing happened. He tapped the door in different places, still without effect. Finally, he pocketed his wand again and pushed his shoulder against the door, but it still didn’t open. “Am I supposed to blast the whole darn thing down?” he growled.

 

“If that is a rhetorical question, go ahead,” Lupin smiled.

 

“You have a better idea then?”

 

“Oh, move over,” Mundungus interrupted them, unceremoniously pushing Moody aside. He produced a little instrument from somewhere inside his coat that looked like a pocket knife, only with several blades, one very fine and thin, one crooked, one broad and flat. He tapped the door with the fine and thin blade in the place where the keyhole would normally be. There was a soft click. Next he pushed the broad blade into the narrow gap between the door and the frame and moved it up and down carefully until it metal hit metal, and there was a clatter like a chain being released. Then the crooked blade went in, and after about a minute, during which Moody began tapping his foot impatiently, they heard a bolt drawn back, and the door swung open, revealing a dark and dusty hallway.

 

“Never underestimate the ol’ crook.” Mundungus grinned and gave Moody a mock bow. “Step in an’ make yourselves at home, gentlemen.”

 

“No,” said Moody, and turned to the dog, which was sitting behind the three men, patiently watching the proceedings. “You go first. It’s yours after all.” He stepped back to make room, and the dog hesitantly got up and moved towards the darkness of the hallway. It stopped and sniffed. The hair on the back of its neck bristled. But then, with sudden resolution, it walked on through the door into the gloomy hall. The others followed in silence.

 

And so it was that Sirius Black, for the first time in almost twenty years, again set foot in the house of his fathers.

 

* * *

 

Lupin, entering last, closed the door behind them and sealed it with a whispered “Colloportus.

 

Lumos,” muttered Moody, and the pale light from the tip of his wand revealed a view of the front part of a long hallway, and a staircase on their right leading to the upper floors.

 

“Blimey,” said Mundungus in a low voice, taking a few more steps into the hall, looking around at the dark wooden panelling that was coming off the walls, the frayed carpet that gave off little clouds of dust under their steps, and the serpent-shaped chandelier hanging from the ceiling, covered in cobwebs. “Blimey,” he said again. “Mad-Eye, what is this place?”

 

“The noble and most ancient house of Black,” said a new voice from the door.

 

Mundungus gave a start and turned to the now three human faces confronting him. Between Moody and Lupin stood a third man, about Lupin’s age, with almost shoulder length dark hair and deep set, equally dark eyes. His face looked rather drawn and wasted in the pale light, but his eyes were curiously alive.

 

“Black?” repeated Mundungus, taking a while to put two and two together. “This is your house?”

 

“Keep your voice down, Mundungus,” Moody warned him.

 

Mundungus’s expression changed from surprise to disbelief. “Your own house,” he said to Sirius, ignoring Moody’s warning. “Nice hideout for a mad mass murderer.”

 

“He’s not – “ Lupin began.

 

“It’s not my hideout,” said Sirius grimly. “I haven’t been here for twenty years. And,” he continued, looking around the hall with a sigh, “I’m not sure it’s good to be back.”

 

“Has it changed so much?” Lupin asked sympathetically.

 

“No, not at all,” Sirius replied. “That’s what I meant.”

 

He strode forward past Mundungus, his own wand raised and lit. “There used to be a huge portrait on the wall here,” he said, pointing at a pair of velvet curtains on the left side of the hall.

 

“There still is,” Moody said, drawing level with him. “Elderly lady in black and green silk and a lacy bonnet, sitting in a high carved chair. Sleeping.”

 

“That’s her,” Sirius said.

 

“Want to have a look?” Moody asked, reaching for the curtains.

 

“No,” Sirius said quickly. “I’m afraid I don’t feel much like saying hello, after – “

 

Sssh!” Lupin hissed suddenly, and now they all heard it – the sound of soft little footsteps, and a small voice muttering to itself. It was coming from somewhere beyond or beneath the far end of the hall, which was in total darkness. The four men held their breath. There was the sound of a door opening, and suddenly they heard the voice clearly.

 

“It was the front door, yes, Kreacher must go and see who it is! Mistress doesn’t expect guests, she would have told Kreacher. Maybe it’s thieves and burglars and murderers!” The voice was close now, hovering just beyond the range of their wand light.

 

“Moody,” Sirius said in a low voice, “didn’t you check the basement before we went in?”

 

“Nobody told me there was a basement,” Moody snarled out of the corner of his mouth, his wand pointed firmly towards the source of the small voice.

 

“You could have asked.”

 

“You could have barked.”

 

There was a tense silence. Even the creature in the shadows had stopped muttering.

 

“Whoever you are,” Moody suddenly called down the hall, his own voice not so much unlike a dog’s bark, “show yourself or you’ll regret it!”

 

There was movement in the darkness, and then a small creature shuffled forward into the wand light, shielding its enormous bulging eyes with a bony, withered hand. It seemed very old, its thin greyish skin hanging around its bones like an oversized piece of clothing. For real clothing, it wore nothing but a grimy loincloth that seemed to be made of an old towel. It had very long, pointed ears, and a nose like a snout. It was clearly a house-elf.

 

“What –“ Moody said, but Sirius had already lowered his wand.

 

“Kreacher,” he said. The house-elf gave a little start at being addressed with his name, looked up at the man who had spoken to him, and broke into a wide, toothy grin.

 

“Master!” he squeaked excitedly. “It’s Master! He’s come back at last!” And he bowed to the dusty floor. When he straightened up again, the grin had wavered slightly, threatening to slide off his ugly face, but the elf caught it just in time and forced it back. “He’s back, oh, Mistress must hear of it, she must hear it at once, at once!” There was definitely something sly and wicked in his grin now, and sure enough, without warning, the elf suddenly broke into an ear-splitting squealing. 

 

“He’s baaaack! BAAAAAAAACK!!!” he wailed, and then several things happened at once. Moody never got further than “Shut up, you –“, while Lupin clapped his hands over his ears, his face screwed up in pain. A second later, the curtains in front of the portrait on the left hand wall had flown open, revealing the ugly sight of the woman in the silk dress, just as Moody had described her, but now wide awake and screaming at the top of her voice.

 

“YOU!” she screamed, pointing an accusing finger at Sirius, “UNGRATEFUL BRAT THAT YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN, HOW DARE YOU COME SNEAKING BACK INTO THE HOUSE OF YOUR FATHERS, AFTER ALL THESE YEARS, LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT, LIKE A MURDERER – “

 

“STUPEFY!” yelled Moody, pointing his wand at the painting. A red jet of light shot out of his wand, but it glanced off the canvas as if off an invisible shield.

 

“SILENCIO!” shouted Lupin almost at the same time, but with no more luck than Moody. The woman in green and black wailed on, unstunned and unsilenced.

 

“BREAKING INTO MY HOUSE, IN THE COMPANY OF SHABBY THIEVES AND CRIMINALS – “

 

“Ungrateful brat!” the elf echoed happily, adding his squeaky voice to the infernal noise echoing up and down the hallway. “Thieves! Murderers!”

 

“Hang on,” Mundungus said practically, and grabbed the frayed and dusty curtains, trying to yank them shut. They flew out of his hands, refusing to close over the still shrieking painting. Mundungus grabbed them again. “Help me!” he shouted. Lupin came to his aid, and together they managed to cover the portrait.

 

The silence was so sudden it was almost palpable. Moody let out a low whistle. Lupin wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his coat. Sirius, who had stood rooted to the spot throughout the whole racket, slowly came to life again. He turned away from the curtains covering the portrait, and stared very hard at the little house-elf. The creature flinched under his gaze, and sank into another low bow with a whispered “Master”. But when he looked up again, his face was twisted in undisguised hatred, and when he spoke, the wicked grin reached almost from pointed ear to pointed ear. “Welcome home.”

 

Sirius gave the house-elf a murderous look. His wand was still in his hand, and his companions could see his fingers tighten around it.

 

Erm, Mundungus,” Lupin suddenly said in a casual voice, “how did you know that?” He pointed over his shoulder at the now completely still curtains.

 

“Oh, that,” Mundungus replied with a grin, “easy. It’s, well, not the first time I’ve had a portrait in someone’s home shout ‘thief’ and ‘burglar’ at me, y’ know…” He glanced apologetically at Moody, who was frowning deeply. “Anyway, I find the bes’ way is to get outta their sight. They all calm down after a while.”

 

“Brilliant,” Lupin said approvingly.

 

“Useful,” Moody admitted with a grunt, apparently not inclined to give Mundungus more credit for his crook’s tricks than absolutely necessary. “Right. Let’s keep our voices down, have some more light, and take a closer look at the place.”

 

He pointed his wand at the old-fashioned gas lamps along the walls of the hall, and one after the other, they flickered into life, lighting the hallway from end to end.

 

“Hang on,” Mundungus said again, looking up and down the hall in confusion. “Where’d that big black dog go?”

 

“Nowhere,” Sirius said, turning sharply on his heel, away from the elf and back to his companions. “Let’s go and find the headmaster’s portrait. It used to be in the study.”

 

“Nobody ever tells me anythin’,” Mundungus muttered.

 

“You can stay down here and keep an eye on that elf,” Moody instructed Mundungus. “And don’t touch anything.”

 

Mundungus looked injured at the implication, but said nothing. Moody took off his bowler hat, revealing his mismatched eyes, one dark and one electric-blue, and hung the hat over the serpent-shaped ornament on the lower end of the banister. Then they began ascending the stairs to the upper floors.

 

“They might have moved him to an unused room,” Sirius remarked. “It’s quite irritating to have someone like him breathing down your neck when you’re writing a letter or reading a book, even if he doesn’t comment on it every single time. Look,” he said, pointing at a row of plaques on the wall, a grim collection of shrunken house-elf heads, all with the same extremely long ears and snout like nose as the live one downstairs. “How soon do you think Kreacher’s going to join them?”

 

Moody only grunted in reply. They had arrived on the second landing. Several doors led off it. The closest was to their right.

 

“You go first,” Sirius muttered, standing back to make room for Moody, who raised an eyebrow.

 

“Anything wrong?” He scanned the closed door to make sure there was nothing unpleasant hiding within.

 

“No,” Sirius said, not looking at either of his companions, “it’s just – “

 

“This used to be yours?” Lupin guessed.

 

“Let’s get it over then.” Without waiting for an answer from Sirius, Moody had turned the serpent-shaped handle and pushed the door open.

 

“About time,” a bored voice greeted them. “I thought you’d never even make it here, after all the racket downstairs. You’re lucky you didn’t wake the Muggle neighbours.”

 

Out of a large ornate frame on the wall to their left, a man was looking down at them, his lips curled in a sneer. He was wearing black and green like the woman in the hall, but judging from his hairstyle and his white silk stockings and buckled shoes, his painting was much older. Around his neck was the heavy chain of office with the Hogwarts crest that the headmasters wore on official occasions.

 

“Well, we’re here now, Nigellus,” Moody growled. “And you’d better take yourself off back to Dumbledore double quick and tell him that his advance guard has completed its mission successfully and with no casualties.”

 

“Excuse me,” the former headmaster replied haughtily. “My duty – “ and the tone of his voice left them in no doubt as to what he thought about it, “my duty is to the current Headmaster or Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and to him or her only. I would like you to note that I am not taking orders from anyone else, least of all from suspended ex-Aurors, lycanthropes and – “ his gaze travelled from Moody and Lupin to Sirius, and he fell silent.

 

“ – mad mass murderers?” Sirius suggested sarcastically.

 

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Headmaster Nigellus, almost affectionately. “You’re family after all, Sirius.”

 

“Thanks for reminding me, Phineas,” Sirius replied, “just when I’d almost managed to forget.”

 

Phineas Nigellus gave him a thin smile and stroked his pointed black beard.

 

“I wasn’t suspended,” Moody grumbled, “I retired.”

 

“And I am not going to waste my time bickering over mere technicalities with you lot,” Phineas replied in his earlier haughty tone. “I am going to see Professor Dumbledore now, and if he thinks you worthy of a reply, I might condescend to coming back to tell you.” And with a swish of his black and green robes, he was gone, leaving the canvas blank in its frame.

 

“Shall we go and have a look at the other rooms until he’s back?” Lupin asked.

 

Sirius shrugged indifferently. “If you like,” he said. “I think you will find them all much like this one.”

 

The bedroom they were looking into was in the same state of decay as the rest of the house – dusty, gloomy and almost empty, long fallen into disuse. Except for the bed, there was hardly any sign that it had ever been used at all, and certainly no sign of its last inhabitant having been a fifteen-year-old boy. They waited in silence, Sirius leaning in the doorframe, staring blankly at the wall opposite. 

 

 “You know, this house will be really useful,” Moody broke the silence after a while.

 

“As useful as Mundungus Fletcher?” Sirius asked, not willing to be cheered up so easily.

 

“More useful,” Moody said. “Big enough to house a fair number if needed, but not too big to hide it. Could even withstand a concerted attack or siege for a while, given the defence was properly organized.”

 

“Speaking of being properly organized,” came Phineas Nigellus’s voice from the empty frame, followed shortly afterwards by the former headmaster himself, “Professor Dumbledore says well done to no casualties – he did seem surprised about that – and he will be with you first thing in the morning. You, that’s Sirius and Lupin, are to stay here until he joins you. Mad-Eye Moody and the crook can go home. Under no circumstances is Sirius to leave the house. Take a note for Professor Dumbledore of anything unexpected that you find in the house, but don’t attempt to change or get rid of it yourself.”

 

“Does that include Kreacher?” Sirius asked innocently.

 

“Kreacher?” Phineas Nigellus seemed puzzled.

 

“Well, what are we supposed to do with him?”

 

“Do you mean he is still there?”

 

Moody and Sirius exchanged a look.

 

“Do you mean you didn’t know?”

 

“Of course I didn’t,” said Phineas in his most dignified tone. “There are no paintings in the kitchen, you know. And besides, I doubt I have spent much more time in this house than you over the last twenty years, Sirius. I dare say I’ve always found your mother’s company slightly less unpleasant than you did, but life in this place did not improve with her death - particularly not in the hall, as you have already found out, if my ears have not deceived me. Now, if you please, gentlemen, I don’t know about you but I at least should like to get some rest tonight.” And he made to move out of the frame.

 

“Good night,” Moody called after him. “And tell Dumbledore not to ring the door bell!”

 

But Phineas Nigellus was already gone.

 

Lupin slowly turned to Sirius, who met his eyes with a rather stubborn look on his face.

 

“That was – your mother?” Lupin asked very quietly.

 

Sirius nodded grimly. “That was her. I always told you you didn’t want to meet her, didn’t I? I hope you believe me now.”

 

* * *

 

When they came back down to the hall, Moody’s bowler hat was still there, but both Mundungus Fletcher and the house-elf were gone.

 

“That old villain,” Moody grumbled. “Useful maybe, but as unreliable as a bunch of pixies hired to do your spring cleaning.”

 

“Maybe he went looking for the dog,” Lupin suggested. “He can’t have gone far.”

 

There was a loud noise somewhere beneath their feet, much like several boxes clattering to the ground, and the muffled sound of cursing. Moody scanned the stone floor of the hall with his magical eye.

 

“He’s in the kitchen,” he reported.

 

“Through here,” Sirius pointed at the door at the far end of the hall, which stood ajar.

 

“Moody,” asked Lupin as they made their way downstairs to the basement, “did you really ever hire a bunch of pixies to do your spring cleaning?”

 

“Of course not,” Moody said indignantly. “Old Mrs Jones once did. They turned the place upside down and we were called in because she claimed her house had been attacked and searched by a troop of Death Eaters. It only turned out later that she’d made the story up because she was so embarrassed the pixie idea didn’t work. Next time she called us, nobody was in a hurry to come and check. Too bad her story was true that time around. Here we are.”

 

They had arrived in the kitchen of No. 12, Grimmauld Place. It was a low but very large room, taking up most of the basement. There was a sense of disuse and dilapidation about it, just like about the rooms upstairs, but a merrily crackling fire in the fireplace made it a lot less gloomy than the rest of the house. The crude brick walls glowed in an almost golden light.

 

Mundungus Fletcher emerged from a door on the right that led to a pantry. He was quite red in the face.

 

“You told me to keep an eye on the elf,” he explained, “so I followed it down ‘ere. It lives in the boiler cupboard, over there.” He nodded at the door opposite the pantry. “Went in an’ banged the door shut. I thought I’d have a look aroun’, but I couldn’ find anythin’ useful. The butterbeer’s all gone sour.”

 

Moody gave him a disapproving look. “Listen,” he said, “Dumbledore says you can go, so we’ll be off in a minute. You two,“ he turned to Lupin and Sirius, “don’t touch anything that looks or sounds dodgy. Don’t try and – “

 

“We heard what Phineas Nigellus said, Alastor,” Lupin reminded him.

 

“All right then. Keep an eye on the elf, and don’t take anything he might offer you to eat or drink.”

 

“Can I just put him on the wall next to his precious ancestors?” Sirius snarled. “’Cause that’s where he belongs.”

 

“Let’s wait what Dumbledore’s got to say to that,” Lupin suggested. “He might be of some use yet. He could do all the cooking and cleaning for us, couldn’t he?”

 

“Look around, Remus,” Sirius snarled. “Does it look to you as if that excuse for a house-elf has even touched a broom or a cooking spoon in years?

 

“Well, there are other ways of getting rid of him,” Lupin replied patiently. “House-elves do change employers sometimes.”

 

“Which means I’m supposed to walk up to the House Elf Relocation office in the Ministry tomorrow morning and say, look, I’m Sirius Black, and I don’t want to share my hideout with my family’s old house-elf, would you mind finding him a new employer he can insult instead?” Sirius’s voice had grown very loud, echoing angrily around the bare kitchen.

 

 “Look,” said Lupin, suddenly looking very tired, “let’s give the matter a rest until tomorrow. One day won’t make a difference.”

 

“All right then,” Moody said again, putting his bowler hat back on his grizzled hair, hiding the magical eye. “I’ll see you around. Good night. Although I wouldn’t sleep at all if I were you. You never know. Every blanket, every bed sheet in this house could be a Lethifold.”

 

“There are no Lethifolds in Britain, Moody,” Lupin said with a yawn.

 

“So said old Obadiah Mimbleton, but they never found his body,” Moody said gruffly. “Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Come on, Mundungus.”

 

 

* * *

 

They listened to the receding footsteps crossing the hall overhead, Mundungus Fletcher almost inaudible, no doubt from long practise, and Moody with his characteristic wooden-legged clunk in every other step. A moment later, the front door fell shut.

 

Sirius practically collapsed into a chair next to the fireplace, put his elbow on the long kitchen table and his head in his hand. Silent and brooding, he stared into the fire.

 

“Have you ever heard of Obadiah Mimbleton?” Lupin asked, taking off his trench coat and putting it over the back of another chair. “Right,” he continued when his friend didn’t react. “Let’s make ourselves comfortable then. I’ll have a look around and see about some food, shall I?”

 

“Drink, more like.” Sirius said without looking up. “And something stronger than butterbeer, if you please.”

 

Lupin went into the pantry, and after rummaging around in it for a short while, he returned with a bottle filled with a liquid of a colour between gold and copper.

 

“Nothing fit for eating,” he reported. “But I found this. Although it could be furniture polish for all we know. Not that any of the furniture in this house looks like it’s been polished recently.”

 

“I don’t care what it is,” Sirius said indifferently.

 

Lupin found two glasses on a dusty sideboard, uncorked the bottle, sniffed at the contents and gave an appreciative little nod. “It’s a miracle Mundungus overlooked this.” He filled a glass for Sirius and one for himself, sat down on his chair and kicked off his trainers. “What shall we drink to then?” he asked cheerfully. “To old times reborn?”

 

“To old times past and gone forever,” Sirius said darkly, still staring into the fire.

 

Lupin put his glass down again without touching his drink, and opened his mouth to protest. But Sirius only shrugged, reached for his own glass and downed his drink in one go.

 

“Look,” said Lupin in a very quiet and composed voice. “I do understand how hard it is for you to be back here after so long, and after all that’s happened. But you knew that. You knew it wouldn’t be easy. You offered the house to Dumbledore to be our Headquarters, after all. It was your wish. It was your own idea even.”

 

“Yeah, it was. I meant to hand it over to Dumbledore to do with as he pleases. He can burn the whole place down for all I care. But I didn’t mean to get stuck in here, here of all places, for the rest of my life.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous. You won’t be stuck in here for the rest of your life. Things have only just started. Just wait till the place has been set up properly, and then you’ll – you’ll –“ Lupin broke off, not knowing what to say.

 

“Then I’ll what?” snapped Sirius, meeting Lupin’s eyes for the first time since the others had left. “You heard Phineas Nigellus. ‘Under no circumstances is Sirius to leave the house’.” He imitated the former headmaster’s drawling tone. “Do you really think this has anything to do with the house?

 

There was a short silence. It rang with Sirius’s anger.

 

“Well, at least it will keep people from patting me on the head,” he concluded dryly.

 

“Moody meant it nicely,” said Lupin quickly.

 

“That doesn’t help.”

 

Lupin silently sipped at his drink. Sirius was staring into the fire again. The flickering light illuminated his brooding, once handsome face, deep shadows marking his hollow cheeks and furrowed brow.

 

“I’ve been going around in a circle, Remus,” he said slowly. “I’m back where I started when I was fifteen, as if nothing had happened, nothing at all. Lost years, wasted years, stolen years.” He reached across the table for the bottle and refilled his glass.

 

“That’s not true,” Lupin said firmly. “It’s not true, and you know it.”

 

“Yeah, there were some things that happened in between, now that you mention it,” Sirius said sarcastically and raised his glass in a mock toast. “To James and Lily then, and how I wish they’d taken me with them just when I was the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life.”

 

Another glassful went down in one go. But Lupin set his own glass back on the table with a sharp clang.

 

“Don’t say that,” he said rather loudly, his voice shaking with suppressed emotion.

 

“Why not, if it’s true?”

 

“Because that’s not what they died for, Sirius. They believed in something. They believed in what they, what we were all doing. They gave their lives so we others could continue, so that we should could finish the great task of our time. They didn’t die because they wanted to spare themselves the trouble of living, Sirius.”

 

Sirius looked up angrily. “You’re saying I’m insulting their memory then, are you?”

 

“I’m not saying anything of that sort,” Lupin replied firmly. “All I’m saying is that it’s up to you whether all these years will be lost and wasted in the end. Think of what lies ahead of us, Sirius. Think of Harry. Harry needs you.”

 

For a moment, Sirius’s face brightened, and the light from the fireplace lit a spark in his dark eyes that had not been there before. Lupin saw it and smiled to himself while Sirius nodded slowly.

 

“Yeah, Harry,” Sirius said quietly. “Harry. I hope he’s a little happier where he is right now. He’d deserve it, you know.” He fell silent, but the light in his eyes remained.

 

 

 

 

To be continued.

 

//
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