The Sugar Quill
Author: Lady Narcissa (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Number Twelve  Chapter: Default
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number twelve

number twelve

 

Disclaimer: All characters belong to JK Rowling; I thank her for letting me fill in the blanks.

This story ©2003 by Lady Narcissa. Huge thanks to both Corgi and Michelle for playing Advance Guard on my behalf. Rated PG-13.

Readers: Leave me a way to contact you—I appreciate and acknowledge all reviews.

 


Sirius stepped out of the bath and Summoned a towel, frowning. He’d just caught sight of himself in the mirror (‘Not looking very happy today! But then again, when do you?’ it chirped). The towel hung loosely around his too-thin waist. Since Azkaban, he’d not been able to put on or keep on any weight—realistically he knew it was the result of twelve years of malnutrition evident on his frame—but still, the change in his body irritated him. He’d been… solid. Always slim, but healthy. Reaching for the one set of clothes that still fit, he dressed without any emotion whatsoever. Part of him was thankful for the robe he wore to hide the clothes, though; he’d had enough of people trying to nurse him back to some semblance of whatever he’d once been. As if what he’d been through could be that readily forgotten.

When he’d first reclaimed Grimmauld Place and offered it to Dumbledore, he thought he might be able to make peace with some of his past. Or at least remember some of it. There was a very common misconception about Azkaban, he realised as he tucked his wand into his belt. People thought that once you left all your memories—all your good memories—came flooding back like a river washing over a parched landscape. Don’t I wish. He shook his head. Spend twelve years there, twelve years with every happy thought being sucked out of you the moment you have the chance to feel it, and see how quickly you learn that you don’t deserve happy thoughts.

But it was more than that. He dragged the comb through his hair and noted with grim satisfaction that since he was no longer able to use Padfoot as a disguise, his human hair had remained relatively mat-free. He’d let it grow to irritate Molly as much as for any other reason. Molly, who’d come in and staked claim to the house—his house, much as he loathed to admit it—and decided that he was an excellent project that needed repairing. She’d tried to feed him and she’d tried to mother him and she’d tried to get him to confide in her and she’d tried to baby him, all of it met with complete apathy. He was no substitute Percy. After a month she’d given up; since that time, any interactions they had were kept on the level of polite enemies.

Sirius didn’t want fixing. He looked at the lines on his face, almost daring the mirror to make a comment. I’ve earned every bloody one of these and no one gets to take them away. No one gets to play Mother to me. No one.

He knew deep inside that if he stayed here in Grimmauld Place for too much longer, he’d end up just like they had been, like Kreacher had become. There were reasons he’d left at sixteen. Probably very good reasons, memories of which the Dementors had stolen from him just as surely as they’d stolen his ability to smile, to laugh, to love. On an intellectual level he knew his parents were mad, living just this side of Dark so they could still respect themselves to a degree. He knew he’d not been like that—arrogant, to be sure, and obnoxious, and irritatingly handsome and reckless and secure—but not evil. Never evil. Never tempted to join Voldemort—never even the slightest bit of interest in it, because unlike his brother he knew the difference between right and wrong.

He just wished he could remember how it felt.

Sirius took a step away from the mirror, grumbling as he did so. Now these clothes were too loose: he opened the robes and pointed his wand to his belt and made another notch-hole, then tightened the whole affair with a rather vicious tug that cut into his abdomen. It hurt, but that was good. Pain was something he could understand. Pain was something he could still feel. Carelessly, he wrapped the robes around his body one more time and buttoned them. It was only he and Kreacher in the house now; everyone else had gone. Off to do important things for the Order, things Dumbledore no longer allowed to him do.

‘Face it,’ he said, turning back to the mirror, ‘You have become little more than a very expensive liability.’

Sirius held his wand to his reflection, pointing it directly at his heart. Avada… He did not allow himself to think the rest of the curse or give voice to it, though it might actually be the answer he’d been seeking.

A knock came from the other side of the door followed by Kreacher’s low mutter. ‘Master should know his foul beast of a pet is taken ill. Oh, what would my Mistress think, the blood traitor and murderer keeping dangerous disgusting animals in her room, in her bed; he is not fit to bear his mother’s name…’ The house-elf’s perverse ranting faded as he moved down the hall.

Sirius lowered his wand and turned toward the door, startled. For the briefest of moments his throat tightened, but he swallowed hard and let out a deep breath. At least he still had Buckbeak, who had better be all right. Through everything since Sirius had acquired him, that Hippogriff had been his one constant—his friend, his companion. Never judgmental, never accusing him of rash or reckless behaviour, never leaving. Never abandoning him. He slammed the bathroom door behind him knowing full well that it would rouse his mother’s ire, but he didn’t care. Sirius raced up the stairs to her old bedroom where he’d kept the Hippogriff in royal style. Behind him, the door snapped shut, muffling the screams from the portrait on the ground floor.

^~*v*~^


The Hippogriff (who was in much better physical shape than Sirius) lay on Mrs Black’s green-clad canopy bed, legs folded beneath him. At the moment Buckbeak looked rather Sphinx-like; his eagle half was incredibly regal and fierce. Yellow eyes fixed on Sirius expectantly; the sound of a beak clicking echoed off the frames of portraits whose denizens were not visible.

But the Human-Who-Wasn’t-Hagrid hadn’t brought bags of dead rats this time, so Buckbeak turned away, disinterested.

Sirius considered the magnificent beast sitting with such great disdain on the bed—he looked all right at first glance. Bored, perhaps, but not ill. Eyes narrowed, Sirius bowed to the beast as usual and waited for his return nod before approaching, although at this point it was all simple ceremony between them. Buckbeak half-closed his eyes; Sirius laid a hand on his feathered neck, stroking from the feathers down to the smooth but bristly horsehide, testing for areas of pain or injury. ‘Your talons, Buckbeak.’ He held out his hand; the Hippogriff obliged by rocking onto his back legs and putting forward one scaled talon at a time. Sirius inspected quickly, but there was no damage. No thorns or cuts—not so much as a scrape or scab.

Now this was curious: no obvious external signs of damage or hurt. He was no Magical Creatures expert, but he knew Buckbeak well enough; he’d done a fair job of caring for him the past two years. Perhaps there was someone he could ask… but no, they’d all left to do whatever it was they were doing.

Out of habit more than anything else, Sirius opened one of the bureau drawers he kept locked in this room. Inside was a mirror—not a big one or a fancy one—covered loosely in brown paper. He tore off the paper and gazed into its hazy darkness. ‘Harry?’ he said, almost in a whisper.

There was no response. There was never a response. Harry didn’t want to talk to him, or he’d have used his twin of this mirror long ago. Sirius had gotten rather depressed looking at it staring blankly back at him from the bedside table in his own room; just the week before he’d brought it up here and locked it away out of Kreacher’s reach. He knew the house-elf was not fond of the Hippogriff and, in fact, avoided this room as much as possible.

Yet Kreacher had known that Buckbeak was ill; he obviously did check his former Mistress’ room from time to time, then. Sirius wrapped the mirror hastily and locked it back in its drawer. ‘Did that nasty little elf feed you something spoilt?’ Sirius examined the Hippogriff from head to his long tail. He coaxed Buckbeak to roll over and tested his underside. No tenderness, no problems… he frowned. ‘So, what’s all this rot about you being under the weather, Buckbeak? Has Kreacher been making up stories?’ He patted the Hippogriff’s belly, but stopped.

Kreacher had lied outright—why? That was unusual, even for him. In fact, he was bound not to lie to his Master; if he said there was something wrong… Sirius reached over and patted the Hippogriff’s wing and there it was; Buckbeak’s yellow eyes flared in warning and he flinched away from the touch. Cautiously, Sirius tried again, prying the wing away from the half-horse, half-eagle body and heard a sickening crunch. Buckbeak hissed.

‘Oh, oh, no, it’s all right, I’ll fix it, don’t worry.’ Sirius’ calm voice betrayed his mounting panic as he examined the Hippogriff’s wing joint, which looked to be held at a very strange angle. How on earth could this have happened to a Hippogriff kept in a bedroom? Had Buckbeak tired of this pleasant prison just as Sirius had, perhaps trying to break through Impervious windows to the freedom of the sky outside? There was no sign of a struggle, but…

Sirius stepped back, instincts suddenly kicking in. This injury was not life threatening, but it did want attention. He would need bandages, and salve, and perhaps even a splint. A poultice: some of that mending paste he’d always used on Lupin after his transformations, way back when they were students. That would do… Molly kept all those supplies right there in the kitchen.

‘Buckbeak.’ He patted the Hippogriff one last time. ‘I’ll fix that wing for you. I’ll be right back, and you’ll feel much better. I promise.’ Still bare-footed from the bath, he left the room and fairly flew down the stairs, making the mental checklist: Bandages. Salve. Splint material. Mending paste. Poultice. Spellotape. And a big fresh bag of dead rats…

Kreacher was in the kitchen; he could hear his foul low cackling grow louder as he approached. Who on earth was the house-elf talking to? They were alone in Number Twelve—Sirius knew that for certain. He paused for just a moment to listen.

‘Master does not tell poor Kreacher where he is going.’

Sirius frowned and moved closer to the door. Someone else shouted—wait, he knew that voice!

‘But you know, don’t you? You know where he is!’

It was Harry; his godson was looking for him—why hadn’t he just used the mirror? Harry knew fireplaces weren’t safe any more! He heard Kreacher cackle with glee. ‘Master will not come back from the Department of Mysteries! Kreacher and his Mistress are alone again!’ Kreacher’s scurrying footsteps sounded: he was leaving the kitchen.

Sirius stepped toward the doorway, conflicted: Buckbeak had been relatively all right and would survive another few minutes without a splint. He could intercept Kreacher or talk to Harry… or do both. As Kreacher emerged from the kitchen Sirius grabbed his arm and held on tight, pulling the house-elf back into the room with him. ‘Harry?’ he called into the fire, but too late—his godson was gone.

Why hadn’t Harry used the bloody mirror?

Eyes narrowed, teeth clenched, Sirius squeezed his hands on Kreacher’s arms. ‘What are you playing at, you miserable little…’ And then he noticed the house-elf’s bandaged hands; his chest burned with anger. He spat out one more word: ‘Buckbeak.’

He wanted me out of the way, the little bastard. It was Kreacher who’d injured Buckbeak; that’s why his hands were bandaged. Sirius took the house-elf by the shoulders and shook him, then slammed his body against the wall. ‘You rotten, double-crossing, foul little piece of garbage… you deserve to die for this, you deserve to die for what you’ve done…’ He wrapped his hands around Kreacher’s neck. ‘I should have done this long ago. Prepare to join your ancestors—I’ll put your head on a platter on the wall so I can spit at it every time I walk by.’

Kreacher flinched. ‘Master is an ungrateful useless swine; Master is a blood traitor, a nasty piece of work who doesn’t deserve to be so much as swept under the doormat at his mother’s house. Go ahead, strangle Kreacher; Master is already a murderer. Oh! If my poor Mistress saw me taking orders from such an unworthy abomination…’ He let out a gag; Sirius’s hands had tightened around his throat. ‘Go ahead. Kreacher will be with his Mistress again…’

Sirius stopped and moved his hands away, shaking with anger. He was no murderer. He’d never been one and wasn’t about to become one now: Kreacher simply wasn’t worth it. ‘What did you tell Harry, and what did you do to my Hippogriff?’

The house-elf put one bandaged hand over his throat and sputtered. ‘Kreacher doesn’t know what Master is talking about.’

‘Yes, you do.’ Sirius drew out his wand; the bandages on the house-elf’s hands flew off. Kreacher reached to cover them up but to no avail; they were raw and freshly bleeding. Someone had clearly approached a beaked and taloned animal the wrong way… probably when his Master was in the bath. ‘I heard you talking to Harry about the Department of Mysteries. What lies did you feed him, Kreacher?’ He held his wand steadily at the house-elf’s chest, but Kreacher only broke into a loud cackle and refused to speak.

‘Get. Away. From. Me.’ Sirius was livid. He didn’t care where Kreacher went, so long as he didn’t have to look at him or hear his foul mutterings ever again.

^~*v*~^


‘Follow me up to my mother’s bedroom; I need to talk with you.’

Phineas Nigellus rolled his eyes and shook his head. ‘I’ve never taken orders from my worthless great-great-grandson before. Why should I start now?’

‘Because,’ Sirius seethed, turning his back on the picture. ‘I need to get word to Dumbledore.’ He tucked the medical supplies under one arm and opened the door with a violent tug. Harry and Ron stayed in this room just last summer—the room that had belonged to Sirius and Regulus when they were boys, before they started to despise one another. His great-great-grandfather had watched over them then, from time to time, whispering irritating encouragements to Regulus and, as always, ignoring the older brother.

He raced up the stair to his mother’s room. Buckbeak. Harry. Both wanted his attention, but he was banned from doing anything to help his Godson without Dumbledore’s approval. Sirius could, however, mend Buckbeak’s wing in the meantime. After all, the Hippogriff had been his most faithful companion; they’d come to rely on one another heavily.

Buckbeak was no worse off than he’d been ten minutes earlier, although his eyes were closed and now that Sirius knew about the wing, he couldn’t imagine why he’d not spotted it straight away. Little bastard house-elf, if I get my hands on him again… He did his cursory bow to the Hippogriff and opened the bag of food, laying it before him. Buckbeak nosed through it, picking up a good-sized rat with his beak. That would keep him occupied while Sirius tended to him. But before he could begin a small music box on his mother’s desk began to glow gold, and then it let out a kind of a ring that started quietly but would, if left unattended, get louder and louder until it woke every portrait in the house. Sirius pointed his wand to it; the box opened with a snap. ‘What do you want?’

A quietly silky voice spoke to him from the music box. ‘Apparently I have nothing better to do with my precious time than disturb what must be an incredibly important social calendar for you.’

‘I’m busy; what do you want?’

There was a brief pause, then the voice continued. ‘To make sure you’re nice and comfortable and where you’re supposed to be, Black.’

‘Bugger off, Snivellus; I don’t need a nursemaid.’ Sirius again pointed his wand at the music box; it closed with a rather abrupt bang and its golden aura faded. He shook his head and patted the feathers on top of the Hippogriff’s head, muttering dark comments about Snape under his breath. Gently, he pried the injured wing joint open and smeared the Mending Paste over it. Buckbeak gave him a sharp look, but returned his attention to the rat.

‘I don’t mean to hurt you, but I have to reset this bone. Eat that rat, Buckbeak, and don’t mind me. It will only be painful for a moment.’ Wand at the ready, he felt the Hippogriff’s wing-bone and knew where it had been broken. There might have been a way to do this with magic, but he knew the most effective thing he could do was simply move it back into place. He did this quickly and Buckbeak hissed, snapping at him in pain. ‘Sorry, friend, but that was necessary.’

At least he could use magic to cast a Calming Charm on the Hippogriff; he did this next as he set the splint to the wing joint and wrapped it as best he could with the bandages, sealing them with Spellotape.

‘You could have done the whole thing more efficiently with your wand, had you ever bothered to pay attention in those Mediwizardry classes,’ came a bored voice from one of the wall-portraits.

‘It’s about bloody time you got here.’ Sirius kept his attention on ministering to Buckbeak as he spoke to his great-great-grandfather. ‘Tell Dumbledore that I’m going to go find my Godson.’

Phineas Nigellus surveyed the scene in front of him—unflappably calm as always, mild amusement on his face. ‘I might, although I have complete confidence in telling you that you are not allowed to leave this house—not to play with your ungrateful little Godson, not for any reason. I doubt that Dumbledore will be happy to know you’ve disobeyed his orders.’

Sirius stopped short, his teeth clenched and his eyes shut tight. Taking a deep, calm, steadying breath, he turned to the portrait, wand raised. ‘Tell Dumbledore or I’ll put an end to your misery here and now; there’s no Permanent Sticking Charm on your portrait.’

His great-great-grandfather disappeared from the frame. Quickly, Sirius checked the work he’d done on Buckbeak: it looked passable. ‘I’ll get you fixed up better when I return, Buckbeak, but that will have to do for now. I don’t care what anyone says: I’m not going to let Harry go to the Ministry without me one more time—I should have been there when he went for his hearing in August but I let people talk me into staying here, staying safe. Never again: I owe him that much. I owe his father that much.’

^~*v*~^


It all boils down to Albus Dumbledore.
Sirius pulled on his boots quickly, double-checked that his wand was in good working order, and put on his travel cloak. Dumbledore was the one keeping him here. Dumbledore was the one who’d turned this house, this miserable house, into his second Azkaban. Dumbledore was the Order’s secret-keeper; Dumbledore called all the shots. Dumbledore said who could come and go, and how much information they could share with Harry and Ron and the rest of the underage wizards, and who sat guard at night and who followed his Godson.

And who had to stay locked up in Grimmauld Place.

Sirius hadn’t done what the wizarding world swore could never be done by breaking out of Azkaban and evading the Dementors for two long years to be trapped yet again: enough. Just as Molly could never be his mother, Dumbledore could never be his father. He wasn’t some child to be ordered around—the time had come to take action.

He reached for the doorknob; several things happened at once. The kitchen door flew open and voices echoed on the ground floor. His mother’s portrait screamed as people poured into the hallway. Shuffling footsteps scurried away from the other side of his door—Kreacher, wait until I get my hands on him—and his great-great-grandfather’s voice caught his attention from a portrait on the wall behind him.

‘I see you’re going somewhere.’ Phineas Nigellus looked supremely disinterested.

Sirius grunted. ‘What did Dumbledore say?’

His great-great-grandfather yawned. ‘I haven’t found him yet. He’s not at Hogwarts any more, or have you forgotten? These types of things take time now.’

‘No.’ Sirius turned around, eyes narrowed, and approached the picture. ‘I haven’t forgotten. If you do find him, tell him… tell him your highly disappointing scourge on the family name is still Harry’s godfather. And as so many people have delighted in pointing out, I’ve not done a particularly good job of looking after him… yet. But I intend to now.’

Phineas shrugged. ‘And whose fault is that?’

Sirius stared hard at him for a moment, and then he laughed. It wasn’t his usual bitter mirthless laugh, but a genuine one. For the first time since he’d been sentenced to Grimmauld Place, he was making the decisions. ‘I’ll give you the full introspective report on my model behaviour when I get back.’ Still laughing, he turned and opened the door.

There was now quite a gathering in the front hallway: Lupin was there, and Tonks, and Kingsley, and Mad-Eye. Mrs Black was screaming at the top of her lungs (‘Mudbloods and half-breeds and mutants, all in my house, all sullying the house of my fathers!’); Sirius caught sight of Kreacher slinking around the corner, his hands bandaged once again.

‘We’ve just heard from Snape at Hogwarts—he thinks Harry’s gone to the Department of Mysteries,’ Lupin shouted over the noise. ‘You’re to—‘

‘Stay here, I know.’ Sirius shot Lupin a look of complete exasperation. ‘Not this time, Remus. KREACHER!’

The house-elf stopped abruptly and turned around. ‘Master told Kreacher to stay away from him. Kreacher is only obeying orders.’

‘Filth and scum, shame of my flesh, abomination—‘

‘SHUT UP!’ Sirius and Remus each grabbed one of the curtains by Mrs Black’s portrait and forced them closed.

‘What do you mean not this time?’ It was Tonks.

‘Someone’s got to stay here to report in to Dumbledore; he’ll be here any moment.’ Kingsley’s deep voice echoed off the walls. ‘Snape says so.’

Sirius, eyes widened, livid with anger, pushed Kingsley away; Moody grabbed him by the arm but Sirius shook him off. ‘I don’t take orders from Snape! Harry’s my godson’ He pointed to the house-elf. ‘Kreacher, you stay here and tell Dumbledore what you’ve heard and where we’ve gone, and if you don’t do it, I swear I will kill you when we get back. You tell Dumbledore everything. Everything.

He tucked his wand into his belt and opened the front door to Number Twelve. ‘Let’s go.’

^~*v*~^


Upstairs in Mrs Black’s bedroom, Buckbeak let out a quiet hiss as he settled his splinted wing against his body. The front door closed; a cloak of quiet descended over the house. The Hippogriff gathered a rat into his beak, tossed his head back, and swallowed.

//
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