The Sugar Quill
Author: Fenris  Story: A Visit from Uncle Alphard  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.

Fenris: My suggested comments are in blue, neccessary changes are in red

 

Bellatrix and Regulus had a secret, and they were taking every opportunity to make sure Sirius knew it. He tried hard to appear uninterested, but he knew they were daring him to ask about it and that was driving him crazy. Now that Andromeda and Narcissa had gone back to Hogwarts, his youngest cousin and little brother were his only playmates, Bellatrix dictating all the games, Regulus happy enough to trail around after her. They were usually to be found trying to pull the wings off doxies without getting bitten, or engaged in some unfathomable fantasy that involved the adventures of all the ancestors on the Black family tapestry, and he quickly tired of their company. A whole year of this stretched out interminably before him until that wonderful day next September when he would finally go to school himself. And now to make matters worse, he kept coming across the two of them smirking at him as they whispered on the stairs, or exchanging conspiratorial looks over supper in the nursery.

 

   Two days of this was as much as he could stand before he summoned the darkest threats a ten year old wizard could command. “Andromeda says you have to do as I say because I’m the oldest. And she taught me all the hexes she learnt in fifth year.”

 

  “Andromeda says! Andromeda says!” chanted Bellatrix nastily. But the memory of a whole summer spent at the mercy of her two big sisters’ hexes was still fresh in her mind, so she quickly relented and agreed to show him what they were hiding.

 

“It’s down here,” Bellatrix led the way into the cellars.

 

  “But what is?” asked Sirius for the umpteenth time.

 

   “You’ll see in a minute.” Right at the back, past the racks of dusty wine bottles was a storeroom. Bellatrix took out a big, iron key and unlocked the door with a flourish. The light from the main cellar barely illuminated the tiny space, and Sirius could hear a faint whimpering sound as he clambered over brooms and buckets.  When his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he made out a makeshift cage in which what appeared to be a large, grey puppy was cowering, its luminous yellow eyes fixed intently on his own. “It’s a wolf cub!” declared Bellatrix triumphantly “ Daddy said I could feed it. I’m not supposed to tell anyone though, so if you dare let on that I told you….” 

 

“But what does he want with it?”

 

“It’s for the werewolf hunt of course.” Bellatrix saw the look of puzzlement on his face.  “Oh Sirius, you’re such a dolt! Even Reggie knows all about it and he’s only seven.”

 

   “Seven-and-a-half!” piped up his little brother.

 

Even if there had been more activity than usual in Grimmauld Place over the last few days it would hardly have registered with Sirius, preoccupied as he was with trying to guess Bellatrix’s secret and daydreaming about Hogwarts. In any case, he never paid the adults in the house too much attention: He had learned long ago it was safer to keep out of their way.

 

“That’s not a werewolf.” Sirius pointed out the obvious, still not quite clear what all this was about.

 

   “Of course not, you idiot.” Bellatrix adopted her haughtiest tone. “You don’t just go after them with a wand, you know. You need extra protection, like a special potion made with silver and stuff. There’s going to be a ritual tomorrow night. They have to sacrifice the cub and use its blood in the potion.”

 

He bent down and peered more closely at the cub. “But it’s hurt.” It was scrabbling at the back of the cage, trying to get as far away from him as possible, but one of its back legs was hanging limply, the fur matted with blood.

 

 “That happened when they caught it,” said Regulus.  “Uncle told Bella they had to kill its mother and she was enormous.”

 

“Anyway, it only has to last till tomorrow night, then…” Bellatrix drew a finger across her throat and grinned wickedly. Regulus laughed at that and grabbed an old mop that was leaning against the cage “You should see its teeth. Look!” He poked the handle through the bars and started prodding the wolf cub, but it only whimpered more loudly and began to tremble.

 

“Come on, show us what big teeth you’ve got!” He thrust the mop handle more forcefully at the cub’s muzzle until it finally bared its teeth in a snarl. Sirius watched, his fury mounting. He saw only the terror in the wolf cub’s eyes, not the sharpness of its teeth.  Finally, he grabbed the mop and wrenched it out of the cage.

 

“Stop it! Leave it alone!”

 

“Give that back.” whined Regulus “I’m just playing. Ow! Get off!” 

 

  Sirius had begun to hit him around the head with the mop handle. “See how you like it, you little git!”

 

  “Sirius. Don’t! He’s only a baby.” Bellatrix had hold of his arms and was pulling the mop away from him.

 

  “I only wanted to show you its teeth.” Regulus was backed against the wall, breathing heavily. A trickle of blood came from his bottom lip, and a crafty smile spread slowly across his face “I’m telling on you, Mummy will be really angry. You’re not supposed to hit me ‘cause I’m littler than you. And you swore.”

 

“You dare tell and I’ll hex you!” bellowed Sirius. His cousin tightened her grip.

 

“And I’ll really hex you both if you dare tell anyone we came down here,” she said with practised menace. “I know where Daddy keeps a spare wand, you know.”

 

That night, Sirius lay awake in his room, listening to the sounds of adult talk and laughter in the dining room below.  He thought of the wolf cub down in the cellar, alone and frightened, its mother dead. And he wondered too about the werewolf. If it were really a man who turned into a wolf, as he had been told, wasn’t it another person just like himself they were planning to hunt down?

 

Since he couldn’t sleep anyway, it was easy for him to wait until the house fell silent and then sneak out of bed and down the stairs. The main problem he thought, would be getting hold of the key. There was cupboard on the kitchen wall where he knew keys to all the rooms in the house were kept, but getting to it would mean sneaking past the sleeping house-elves. But to his relief, none of them seemed to notice him as he crept past the old fireplace where all but one of them slept. It was a good thing Kreacher had his own quarters under the boiler; Sirius had fallen foul of his mother’s favourite house-elf too often before. When he reached the cupboard, there was an entire row of keys labelled ‘storerooms’ so he took a few of the most likely looking ones. As he turned to go they jangled together in his hand, and he froze. A couple of elves stirred in their sleep but didn’t wake. He crept on toward the cellars.

 

The third key he tried was the right one. He tried to be as quiet as he could, but tripped over a bucket in his hurry to reach the cub, and then found to his dismay that the cage was too heavy for him to lift. Sirius knelt on the floor and untwisted the wire holding it closed. The wolf cub was again trying to get away from him, snarling ferociously, and this time he did notice that its teeth looked needle-sharp. He spotted a pile of old robes torn up for dusters on a bottom shelf, so he took a bundle and wrapped them around his hands.

 

   “Come on now” he said, trembling almost as much as the cub.  “I’m not going to hurt you, but we have to do this quickly.” Sirius reach into the cage as far as he could and only just stopped himself from crying out as the cub locked its jaws around his wrist. It hurt a lot, but because of the torn up rags it was just about bearable. Somehow he managed to scoop the terrified animal into his arms and run with it out of the cellar and up a staircase which led directly into the entrance hall. But once there he stopped short. He had imagined getting this far with the cage, but instead he was holding the struggling cub tightly in both hands and now he was somehow going to have to extricate one of them to open the front door. Sirius stood there for a moment, listening to the muffled whimpering of the cub and the gentle snoring of the family portraits lining the walls. He was still trying to think his way out of this final problem when he heard a familiar and most unwelcome voice:

 

“Someone is sneaking around the house waking us all up. Aha! Kreacher wonders what the young master is doing out of his bed at this time of night?”

 

As Sirius turned towards Kreacher, the elf saw what he held in his arms and screeched “Master! Mistress! The young master is taking Master’s secret!”

 

Eyes flew open all around him as the portraits awoke and thirteen generations of Blacks hurled insults down at him from their frames. “Traitorous thief! Son of a Mudblood! You dare besmirch the honour of the Blacks!” Doors flew open and adult feet thundered down the stairs “What in Merlin’s name...?”

 

Sirius knew both he and the cub were doomed.

 

Retribution was swift and terrible: He had never known his parents to be so furious with him. Sirius had nearly breached the secrecy surrounding the werewolf hunt, which was a far more serious matter than his usual childish pranks. His father thrashed him soundly there and then, but it was his mother who bewitched a riding crop to follow him around all the next week and beat him every hour. There was also the lecture, of course, when it was impressed upon him that wolves were just vermin and werewolves even more so. His only consolation in all this was that Bellatrix was punished as well, and the whole of Grimmauld Place probably heard what Sirius’s father had to say to his uncle about letting her in on the secret in the first place. The wolf cub was back in its cage and the keys to the cellar were placed under Kreacher’s personal guard.

 

The following evening was the night of the werewolf hunt and Sirius was again sent to bed without supper. When he heard the doorbell ring he crept onto the landing and looked down to see who would be first to arrive. Kreacher was taking the coat of a rather portly, dark-haired man, who looked a lot like his father except there was no mistaking that jovial, booming voice. Considerably cheered to see his favourite uncle, Sirius tiptoed downstairs and settled on the bottom step from where he could eavesdrop on the conversation in the drawing room.

 

   “I’m sorry Alphard,” said his father’s voice. “I’ve done you the decency of allowing you to have your say, but my mind is made up. We couldn’t stop it at this late stage in any case, it’s not as if we’re the only people involved.”

 

“Well at least let me speak to the boy.”

 

They were talking about him. Well, that was nothing new, but this time he was listening carefully.

 

 “You may as well, for all the good it will do.” He heard his mother’s cold voice. “He’s got a filthy temper and no respect for authority at all. Merlin only knows what they’ll make of him at school.”

 

 “The boy’s been mollycoddled for too long.” His father added. “the Slytherin masters should knock some sense into him.”

 

Sirius jumped at the sound of a chair scraping on the parquet floor and rushed back upstairs to his room.

 

************************************************************************

 

Ten minutes later, Alphard Black found himself waiting in his eldest brother’s study for his nephew to be summoned.

 

The boy was much taller of course than when they had last met a good two years before, but he still looked every inch a Black - the usual pale grey eyes and thick mop of black hair. Although Alphard was gratified to note he didn’t yet have the cold haughty look that his niece Bellatrix had already perfected at the tender age of nine.

 

“Hello Sirius. How nice to see you again. Please sit down.” He noticed the boy hesitate. “Hmm, perhaps not. I imagine they didn’t spare the rod this time, eh?”

 

Sirius shrugged. “It’s all right, I’m used to it.”

 

“Indeed. I’ve heard you don’t like to do as you’re told.”

 

Sirius glared defiantly at his uncle. “Only when I’m told to do something stupid.”

 

Alphard chuckled at that, but before he could reply, the study clock chimed the hour and Sirius flinched as the bewitched riding crop drew back behind him and appeared to take aim.

 

“Of all the barbaric…!” Alphard brandished his wand “Finite Incantatum!” and the riding crop clattered to the floor. He turned back to his nephew with what he hoped was a stern look. “Now. Why did you take the wolf?”

 

  Another shrug. “I like dogs.”

 

  “But it wasn’t a puppy, Sirius, it was a wild animal!” said Alphard in exasperation.  “What on earth did you think you could do with it, set it free in Regent’s Park? What would the Muggles have made of that, eh?”

 

Sirius made no answer, but stared miserably at his feet. It seemed that had indeed been the plan. 

 

“Well, boy?” persisted Alphard.

 

The explanation, when it came, tumbled out all in one without pause for breath.  “But a wolf’s just a wild dog really, isn’t it? It was only a cub and it was hurt, they killed its mother and Reggie was being so horrible to it, and Bella says the grown ups are going to slit its throat.”

 

  “Oh dear me!” Alphard was rather alarmed at the sight of his nephew dissolving into tears. He didn’t have much experience with children and he certainly wasn’t prepared for this. “Come over here my lad. There, there.” He let the boy sob into his robes as he patted him awkwardly. His mother should be doing this, thought Alphard, but what comfort will the poor child ever find there...

 

Eventually, Sirius recovered himself and stepped back, sniffing a little. “You won’t tell will you?” Alphard handed him a handkerchief “That you cried? No no, I wouldn’t dream of it.”

 

His nephew dried his eyes and looked up at him quizzically.

 

“Uncle Alphard. A werewolf is… like a man most of the time, isn’t it?”

 

“He is a man just like any other, except at the full moon of course.”

 

So wouldn’t it be easier just to kill him when he’s a man?”

 

“But then they wouldn’t have their sport.” replied Alphard grimly.

 

“And killing a man would be murder, wouldn’t it?” It appeared the boy had already given this a lot of thought.

 

“Yes Sirius, and there are wizards who would say that what your parents are about to do is murder. There are less…mediaeval ways to deal with a werewolf.”

 

The boy mulled this over a while before continuing “You’re not going on the hunt are you uncle?” 

 

“Certainly not. I only came here tonight because I thought I could persuade my brothers ...well, it seems I was mistaken.” 

 

“Are you going to tell on them?”

 

“No, I’m not going to do that either. I’m not as brave as you, Sirius, to so openly defy the House of Black.”

 

The grey eyes blazed in anger. “I hate my family. I wish I was a Muggle.”

 

Alphard shook his head. “Never be ashamed of who you are, Sirius. You’ll have been taught I’m sure, that the Blacks are descended directly from the druids of ancient Britain, as are all the old wizarding families. We were living on these islands long before the Muggles came. Our ancestors built the standing stones, back when the whole country was magical, and we are all that is left. Besides,” he winked “imagine not being able to do magic, eh my boy?”

 

The thoughtful look returned. “But I wish we had Christmas and Easter and everything. Andromeda says they have them at Hogwarts, because of all the half-blood children.”

 

“But so much of those celebrations come from our traditions in the first place, Sirius. The Easter eggs and the Christmas trees…”

 

“Yes I know, and the flying reindeer”

 

“And the Winter Solstice can be great fun!” Alphard saw the blank look on the boy’s face. Hmm, perhaps not in this house, he thought, and decided to move the conversation onto lighter matters.

 

“So you start at Hogwarts next year?” He was delighted to finally see the cheerful grin he remembered from two years ago.

 

“Yes! But I hope I’m not in Slytherin!” How interesting, thought his uncle.

 

“Well, I was in Ravenclaw myself.” And he’s certainly bright enough

 

“Were you? So is Andromeda, but I want to be in Gryffindor!”

 

Alphard couldn’t stop himself from laughing out loud. “A Black in Gryffindor?” That would be a turn up for the books.

 

The boy’s expression was solemn again “So you don’t think I could be?”

 

Bless my soul, thought Alphard this child’s mood changes more often than a boggart at a barn dance.

 

“Sirius, my boy. If you truly want to be in Gryffindor, just be sure and tell the Hat”

 

“The hat? How can I tell anything to a hat?”

 

Well…” Just in time Alphard remembered that he wasn’t supposed say. “Well, you’ll know what I mean when it happens, and now I think it’s time for your supper young man.”

 

Sirius frowned “I’m not allowed supper. Mother told me to stay in my room.”

 

   “I’ll have a word with the kitchen elves on my way out, see if we can’t rustle you up something. But we won’t tell Kreacher, eh?” Alphard winked again and was rewarded with another grin, but just as quickly the frown returned.

 

“Aren’t you staying for dinner then? We hardly ever see you”

 

“I’m afraid your father and I hold such different opinions on a number of topics, Sirius, that I’m not always a very welcome guest in this house.”

 

Alphard turned his thoughts to a certain piece of magic he had brought with him tonight. What he had heard from Andromeda over the past couple of years suggested the boy had promise, and this little chat had confirmed his suspicions. But could he be trusted to use it wisely? He was only ten years old after all. On the other hand, Sirius had already proven himself capable of rather more than could be expected of a child brought up in this house. He would be fine once he was at Hogwarts now that Albus was in charge, but until then…

 

“Sirius?” The boy had been waiting to be dismissed; now he looked up expectantly.

 

“I have a little present for you.” Alphard beckoned his nephew over and held out a small mirror in a plain, brass frame, cracked and spotted with age. “Look into it,” he instructed. “That’s right, do you see yourself? Now say my name very clearly.…”

 

   “Uncle Alphard.” said Sirius.  He gasped and looked up in delight when his uncle’s face appeared. “It’s you!”

 

   “Indeed!” said Alphard, as he produced an identical mirror from his waistcoat pocket.  "And if I say your name into mine, like so: Sirius! I can see you too. So, if you ever need a little chat, just take out your mirror and we’ll be able to talk to each other. But it’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone Sirius, not even your cousin Andromeda. Keep it very safe and only use it when you really need to talk about something important. Can you do that for me?”

 

Sirius nodded solemnly.

 

   “That’s my boy. Now here’s a Galleon for you. Run along now.”

 

Alphard watched as the boy raced from the room. Well, well, he thought. Heir to the Noble House of Black, who would have imagined he’d turn out like that? Perhaps there is hope for this family after all.

 

 

 

//
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