Also available as: Epub
Steward of the House of Black
Chapter the First
June 30, 1980
Remus looked up from the ledger as Sirius came in the back door, arms filled with grocer bags. Sirius parked the bags next to the refrigerator and pulled a brown bottle from the bag, plunking it down on the table next to the ledger.
“You look dehydrated,” Sirius explained, “I read all about it in a magazine when I was waiting to pay at the grocer’s.”
“Was that a magazine with a picture of a fit young lass on the cover? A smiling buxom girl who forgot to button up her blouse?” Remus replied, picking up the bottle. It was chilled. He smiled and then ran the bottle across his forehead.
“You’re supposed to drink it, Moony,” Sirius chided.
“It’s cold, and I’m hot,” Remus explained. “Besides, you didn’t bring me an opener.”
Sirius reached across the table and thumbed the bottle open, the cap rolling in a lazy circle on the table.
“Why, Sirius, is the only wandless magic you practice related to booze?”
Sirius drew himself up in mock outrage. “I’ll have you know that I can do two things wandlessly.”
“The brassiere trick doesn’t count,” Remus countered.
“ I think it’s very important,” Sirius replied.
“Booze, birds and pranks,” Remus said, tipping the bottle to his lips. “Thank you for not getting Strongbow, by the way.”
“Better now, I see a smile on your dour Puritan face,” Sirius said. “I need to ask you a favor.”
“I live in your house rent-free, Sirius; I think I might owe you a favor or two.”
“About last night,” Sirius began.
“You don’t have to explain it to me,” Remus interrupted.
“Listen, Moony, we both know that I’m pants at anything responsible, and that James’s barking mad to ask me to be godfather to the little as-of-yet-unnamed Potterlet.”
Lupin raised an eyebrow. “So what’s the favor?”
“I’m the heir apparent to the House of Black,” Sirius began.
“A little late in life to be figuring that out, isn’t it?”
“Dear old Mumsy would probably slit my throat if I were to come home, but the Black charter is quite plain, I’m the heir unless and until the Head casts me from the family, and Arcturus, bless his cantankerous soul, has refused to do so because it brasses off Mumsy something fierce.”
Remus motioned with his hand, rolling forward in a tight circle.
“Right,” Sirius resumed. “before hitting the grocer’s, I slipped into Gringotts, and claimed the Heir Signet.” He then opened his hand as if producing a card, displaying a dingy dark gold ring with a black stone seal. “Until Arcturus snuffs it, I’m just the heir, but the one thing that the heir can do is name the Steward.”
“I imagine that would go over well with Walburga,” Remus observed.
“That’s just a bonus,” Sirius replied. “She doesn’t get any say in the matter – she has a life interest in the house, but she doesn’t control any of the Black properties or funds, nothing other than her dowry vault.”
“Why should I be the steward?”
“That’s Steward with a capital ‘s’, mind you,” Sirius said, pulling his own bottle from the grocery bag. “Arcturus isn’t long for this world. After he dies, you’ll manage the estate until the new Head of House is recognized.”
“But I’m…” Remus objected.
“Doesn’t matter, Dark family, remember? There’s actually a fairly long tradition of hiring magicals unable to marry into the family – prevents conflict-of-interest or some such notion,” Sirius explained. “Listen, the purpose of the whole godfather thing is to have backup if something wretched happens to Lily and James. We both know it should have been you, but that would have been a problem with the current government. So instead of appointing someone who’s responsible twenty-seven out of twenty-eight days of the month, I’m the stuckee. So, I’m asking you to back me up – if something happens to Lily and James, and happens to me, the Steward would be charged with taking care of my responsibilities, including my godfather duties. You’ll be backup to the backup. Besides, you manage money better than I do.”
“So, it’s okay with the purebloods if I control the purse strings, but not if I’m the godfather?”
“Exactly – once you get right with the notion that it doesn’t have to make sense, it all becomes perfectly clear. Besides, Alphard’s convinced Arcturus that you’re a fiscal genius,” Sirius explained.
“Doesn’t Arcturus have to approve?” Remus asked.
“He already has,” Sirius said, “I went to see him before I went to Gringotts.”
“You went to see Arcturus dressed like that?” Remus asked.
“No, you dimwit, I dressed to the nines and had my hair in a proper braid,” Sirius explained. “I can play the game, even when I despise the game, the rules, and all the players. So, how about it? For the little Potterlet?”
“What’s the Steward do?” Remus asked.
“Collect the rents, negotiate debts, pay the taxes, run the household, you know, Steward-y things.”
“Why do I keep saying yes to you?” Remus said, draining the rest of the bottle.
“I suspect it’s because I’m so entertaining,” Sirius said. “So, Moony, if you put the groceries away, I’ll start dinner.”
“You’ve got a deal.”
Saturday morning, November 1, 1981
Alice Longbottom blinked as she came through the door. The old manor house had been converted years ago into something resembling a hotel, but the lobby was, at present, empty. A young girl somewhere in her early teens waited behind the front desk. Alice walked towards the desk, flashing her credential quickly before barking at the girl.
“I’m looking for a man named Remus Lupin.”
The girl stared at her.
“I think I’m going to need to see that again, Ma’am,” she said.
Alice pulled the credential case out again, holding it open. The girl took hold of the bottom edge, looking carefully at the picture, comparing it to the woman in front of her.
“A bit out of your ju-ris-diction, aren’t you, Ma’am?” the girl asked, taking care to pronounce ‘jurisdiction’ as if it were a winning word at Scrabble.
“Please, I need to find Remus,” Alice said, trying to soften the frustration in her voice.
“Oh, Remus is it now?” the girl asked with a bit of saucy smile.
“Is he here?” Alice asked.
“Not at the moment, but he will be shortly,” the girl replied, her eyes looking to the clock ticking away at the wall. “Would you like a cuppa?
“I’m sorry, what?” Alice replied.
“Some tea,” the girl said, as if explaining the concept for the first time to a feeble-minded adult. “I normally take Mr. Lupin some tea after he arrives upstairs. He’ll come down after a good soak, settle his bill and then be on his way.”
“He stayed here last night?” Alice asked.
“Not here , here,” the girl explained, “but he was our guest. “Do you have another credential, Ma’am?”
Alice reached back into her bag, pulling out a smaller credential case. This case she left open on top of the front desk.
The girl took a long look at the bronze disk attached to the inside of the case before jabbing the disk with her thumb.
“Alice Longbottom, British Ministry of Magic, Auror” the disk groaned as a shadowy bust of Alice appeared above the credential case. The bust disappeared as the girl removed her thumb from the bronze.
“Still out of your ju-ris-diction” the girl said with some deliberation. “Mr. Lupin was indisposed last night. He visited some property owned by my family, and this morning will be returning to the hotel. He has committed no crime on any of these islands, so I’m at a bit of a loss as to why a foreign Auror is asking me questions about an honored guest of this es-tab-lish-ment.”
“How old are you?” Alice asked.
“How much do you weigh?” the girl countered.
Alice felt flustered, but picked up the second credential case, dropping it into her purse. She then wiped a hand over her face and took a deep breath.
“I’m quite sorry. Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m Alice Longbottom, I’m looking for an old friend from school; I’m hoping that he may have some knowledge of the whereabouts of a mutual friend concerning a matter of family business.”
“Good morning, Mrs. Longbottom,” the girl replied with a smile and a slight bob. I’m Julia, I’m the ben-oast this morning, as Da’s away.”
“It’s a Manx word – it means ‘hostess’ or ‘lady inn-keeper’ you know, like Rahab in the Bible,” Julia explained.
Alice gave her a blank look. Julia sighed.
“About that tea,” Julia began.
“Yes, please,” Alice replied.
“I’ll have it for you in a moment,” Julia said. “Please have a seat by the fire.”
“Thank you, Julia, you’ve been kinder to me than I deserve,” Alice said.
Sitting down in a comfortable stuffed chair, Alice tried to pull her thoughts together, wondering how Neville was doing at home; she so disliked calling on Augusta for child-minding, but with Frank back at work she hadn’t had much alternative.
“Your tea, Ma’am,” Julia announced, setting a tray down on a table beside Alice. There was a muffled thump from upstairs. “Ah, that’s Mr. Lupin now. Let me take him his tea, he may decide to talk to you before his bath.”
Julia disappeared into another room only to reappear a moment later with another tea tray which she carried upstairs.
“Mister Lupin,” Julia called as she rapped on the door. “Are you decent?”
There was a cough on the other side of the door. “That all depends,” a voice replied. “Do you have tea?”
“Of course, Mr. Lupin,” Julia replied cheerily, pushing the door open with her foot. The man inside blinked at her momentarily before reaching up for the cup of tea that she was pouring after she set the tray down.
The man sipped the tea and then sighed. “Ah, Julia, you are indeed the ben-oastess with the most-ess.”
“Mr. Lupin, I’ll thank you very much to not mangle my mother’s tongue; beside, puns usually don’t work across two different languages,” Julia said. She poured water into a basin, wet a washcloth and began to wipe his face. “No blood, that’s good. I so dislike trying to get blood out of the sheets.”
“That only happened once, and it wasn’t my blood,” Lupin said, looking at her over the top of his cup of tea.
“Still didn’t care for it, Mr. Lupin,” Julia retorted. “There’s a pushy Englishwoman downstairs, says she’s Alice Longbottom.”
“Something about trying to find someone you know regarding a family matter,” Julia explained. “I explained that you’ll be down once you’ve freshened up a bit.”
“She’s not coming up?”
“What -- send a married woman up to see a single man, unchaperoned?” Julia said with exaggerated dismay. “This is not that type of es-tab-lish-ment, Mr. Lupin.”
“Of course, Julia,” Lupin replied. “Tell Alice I’ll be right down.”
Remus was pulling on the cuffs of his sleeve as he came down the stairs.
“Come to arrest me, Alice?” he said flippantly.
“Sit down, Remus,” Alice said brusquely. “Please.”
“There’s no good way to start this,” Alice began.
“Who’s dead?” Remus asked in a matter-of-fact tone.
“James and Lily,” Alice said. “I’m so sorry.”
They sat in silence. At this point in the troubles, explanations were superfluous.
“When?” Remus asked, breaking the silence.
“Last night, Samhain,” Alice said, pronouncing the word as ‘soe-in.’
“I thought Dumbledore was protecting them,” Remus said.
“He was,” Alice said simply. “Fidelius.”
“So, without seeming rude, why are you here, Alice? I’m not family.”
“Don’t be stupid, Remus, everyone knows you and Sirius were James’s brothers,” Alice began.
“Not recently,” Remus explained. “There was a bit of a blowup in the Order. Peter started a whispering campaign that there was a spy in the Order, and I was voted the most logical suspect.”
“I never heard anything about it,” Alice interrupted.
“You weren’t at those meetings – I suspect you were at home with Neville.”
“Frank never said anything.”
“A point in Frank’s favor, I suppose.”
“James and Lily were found dead at their cottage this morning, the Fidelius failed; the Pretender’s wand was found at the scene with a scorch pattern penumbra on the wall matching his shape and magical signature. Harry’s gone, Remus,” Alice said with a chill in her voice.
“Is he with Sirius?”
“We can’t find Sirius.”
“Well, I’m afraid I can’t help you either – I haven’t talked with Sirius in a while.”
“But you’re his Steward,” Alice objected.
“Am I?” Remus pondered.
Alice dug in her bag, pulling out what looked like a sugar cube. “Frank and I may be going underground to round up the Pretender’s idiots. Touch your wand to this and you can send me a short message. It’s something like the Floo. If you hear anything from Sirius or learn anything about Harry, let me know.”
Remus looked at her coldly, but took the cube.
“Don’t give me that sad face, Remus, Peter’s a blithering idiot, and anyone who listened to him was just as much an idiot. Besides, I still want you to teach Neville Maths and Arithmancy before he goes to Hogwarts.”
“You still want that?” Remus asked.
“Absolutely, that’s why I’m putting in my reservation eight years in advance. The girl at the desk, the ‘ben-oast,’ is she one of your students?”
“Julia? Yes, I suppose. She’s a bit of a prodigy – she finished the Arithmetica when she was ten. I’ve given her some books to read and helped her with Transfiguration, but there’s not much left that I can teach her in Maths.”
“She a Hogwarts girl?”
“No, her father’s not keen on Hogwarts, so she’s doing home study for the OWLs, even though that’s not strictly necessary here on the island.”
“I think she’s sweet on you, Remus,” Alice said conspiratorially.
“A bit young for my tastes,” Remus replied.
“Some women plan things out years in advance, like me,” Alice said, closing her purse and picking up her coat.
“I’ll consider myself warned.”
Alice stood, hesitated, and then gave Remus a hug before leaving the room. Remus was surprised by that, as Alice wasn’t given to many displays of affection, but it felt genuine enough. Remus put the cube in his pocket and decided that he wanted breakfast more than he wanted a bath and went to the dining room, hoping that the buffet had something left.
November 2, 1981
Remus walked to the end of the terrace house, pulling his key to open the stairway gate that led to his flat, a snug basement unit. The terrace house was seven units, most of which were still family occupancies rather than flats. By request, Sirius occupied the house at the other end of the row of somewhat identical houses. The terrace had been rather run down when Sirius had bought it, at Remus’s urging, when the two bachelors needed to find rooms. Sirius wasn’t welcome to go back to Grimmauld Place, and Remus had nowhere to go; his parents had both died when he was at Hogwarts.
They’d fixed it up, renting out units to Londoners looking for a bargain. Uncle Alphard was astounded at how a small pile of Galleons ended up buying Muggle real estate and with a bit of judicious magic, was now producing revenue. Remus smiled, thinking that at least he’d brought some pleasure to Alphard in his last days. After the particularly wretched Order meeting a week ago where he’d walked out rather than answering any more questions, he hadn’t seen Sirius, James, or Peter again. If the headlines on the Daily Prophet were to be believed, he wouldn’t see any of his friends again, as one was on his way to Azkaban and the other two were now dead. He carried the folded up special edition of the Daily Prophet under his arm, the one that announced that one of his friends had betrayed James and Lily and then murdered Peter, along with a baker’s dozen of Muggles.
He sniffed as he opened the door to the flat. While his nose wasn’t as sharp as some of his kind, he knew the scents of his friends, and his nose was telling him that Sirius had been in his flat recently. There was a slate by the door, used equally for messages from his friends (all of whom could enter his locked flat without skipping a step) or grocery lists. The message was terse: “M – W played us all – P.” Remus translated the shorthand without much effort – “Moony, Wormtail played us all – Padfoot.” Remus then noticed the string hanging from the slate. At the end of the string was a dingy gold signet ring with a black stone face. Remus pocket the ring, telling himself that he’d decide later what he’d do with the ring, but he knew in his heart that he’d already decided. It was time to dig up some facts.
Remus spread some cheap paper across the kitchen table and scribbled furiously, filling the paper with notes and columns. He wrote down the facts as he knew them, the facts as reported in the amazingly vague Daily Prophet article emblazoned with the headline “You-know-who Vanquished” as well as his unanswered questions. He’d been to the cottage in Godric’s Hollow several times after James and Lily had married, having eaten dinner there almost weekly until the blowup at the Order meeting. He concluded that he would treat all the reported facts as suspect.
- Did the Potters use the Fidelius?
- Did the Potters die at Godric’s Hollow?
- Who was the secret keeper?
- Where was Sirius in the last week?
- Where was Peter in the last week?
The issue of whether Harry was still alive, and where he was at the moment, if he was alive, Remus put aside for the moment. He found his waistcoat slung over the back of his favorite reading chair and dug the cube Alice had given him out of the pocket, returning it to the kitchen table. He touched it with his wand. The cube glowed and then sported a small flame. A chime rang softly with a flat voice announcing “channel open.”
“Alice? It’s Remus, getting back to you,” Remus declared, hoping that Alice was in range of the device, however it may work.
“What?” he heard a thin voice say from the flame.
“Oh, Remus. It seems that I know where Sirius is now, sorry to trouble you.”
“Alice, please don’t ring off, or whatever this thing does,” Remus began. “Can we meet?”
“I guess I owe you that much,” he heard Alice say. “How well do you know Dundee?”
“Fairly well,” Remus replied.
“Meet me at Plug’s, let’s say 3:00 today, I should be wound up here by then.”
Remus watched the flame sputter out and then the cube seemed to reform from the puddle of goo that was left by the flame. Whatever the device was, it was apparently made for more than one use. He looked at his paper and then made another, shorter list. He’d be busy between now and three o’clock.
Before the Order meeting where everything went pear shaped, Peter had been assigned a number of tasks which he’d either blown off or asked to be reassigned to someone else, giving as his excuse that he had to take care of his mother. Perhaps it was time to visit her; she’d taken a shine to him once in the past.
Plug’s was a neighborhood pub on a street close enough to the water that the smell of the estuary was quite clear, to Remus at least, but far enough from the water that he might as well have been in a landlocked city elsewhere. At three o’clock the lunch traffic was gone and the after work traffic had not yet arrived. Remus recognized the woman behind the bar, giving her a nod before moving to the booth the woman indicated. He didn’t have to wait long for Alice, who came in carrying a bag too big to be called a purse, and not quite large enough to be called a rucksack.
The woman seemed to have followed Alice to the booth.
“What will it be, dears?” she asked.
“Dorothy, right?” Remus asked, hoping that he’d remembered the name correctly.
“Yes dear, although I’ve answered to ‘Plug’ so long now that sometimes I wonder who they’re calling when I hear my own name. What will it be? We’ve got three types of cider and four types of beer and five types of ale.”
“You still brewing ale on the premises?”
“I might be,” Dorothy said with a smirk.
“I’ll have some of your ale,” Alice said, shifting the strap of her back off her shoulder.
“Too early for ale for me,” Remus said. “I’ll take cider, anything that’s not Strongbow.”
“Anything to eat?”
“Chips?” Remus asked, looking at Alice.
“Chips it is, two orders,” Alice confirmed.
“I’ll put in the order and then bring you the drinks,” she said, turning sharply.
“Thanks, Dorothy,” Remus said. He turned to look at Alice’s haggard face.
“Still hunting what’s left?” he asked.
“It’s crazy, Remus. I haven’t been home since I saw you last. I’m afraid that Neville is going to start calling Augusta ‘Mummy’ if I don’t get back soon,” Alice griped.
“I think he’ll still know you,” Remus said. “I’ll cut to the chase – it seems Sirius left me a note sometime last night, although it could have been earlier, as I’d been away for a bit.”
“Oh, what did it say?” Alice asked.
“It was scrawled on my slate, the one where I list my groceries,” Remus explained. “He said, ‘Peter played us all.’”
“Were those his exact words?”
“Pretty close – it was ‘M – W played us all - P’ which is ‘M’ for Moony, my nickname, ‘W’ which is Wormtail, Peter’s nickname, ‘played us all’ the message, and then it was signed ‘P’ which is Padfoot, Sirius’ nickname.”
“You sure it was Sirius?”
“I’m fairly certain that I’d recognize his hand anywhere, besides, the room still smelled like him, my nose is fairly keen right now.”
“So he’d been there recently?”
“Six hours or less,” Remus guessed.
“What did you know about the Potters?” Alice asked.
“I knew that they went into hiding,” Remus explained. “I suddenly forgot where their cottage was, so I guessed that it was Fidelius, but they’d never discussed it with me. The Pretender had chatted them up at Midsummer, trying to recruit them, I suppose. James and Lily told him ‘no’ in very firm tones, and some toughs tried to ambush the two of them the next night.”
“Did you know who was serving as the secret-keeper?”
“The only thing I was certain about was that it wasn’t me,” Remus replied. “If I had to guess, I’d say Albus or Sirius, as it couldn’t have been James or Lily.”
“The secret-keeper can’t be what’s hidden, don’t ask me to explain how that works,” Remus said, holding up his hand. “That’s not my area of expertise.”
“Can you come in for a statement?” Alice asked.
“Last time I got questioned by Aurors I was left in a cell for twenty hours,” Remus objected.
“Yeah, that lad’s an idiot,” Alice apologized. “If I promise that you won’t disappear, can you make it in?”
“What for?” Remus asked. “According to the Prophet, it’s all wrapped up.”
“It stinks, Remus. I don’t believe Sirius betrayed them, I’m not sure the Pretender’s dead, and I still don’t know where Harry is,” Alice growled. “The Minister might want to say that we’re all happy now, but I won’t be happy until I know where Harry is, and all the Pretender’s idiots are in Azkaban.”
“I’ll be in tomorrow, let’s say at nine o’clock?”
“Let’s say noon, Remus, I’m going home right now. I’m going to kiss my son, kiss my husband and then I’m heading to bed after a nice hot shower.”
“That’s fair, noon it is then.”
It was more like 1: 30 PM when Remus finally sat down in a DMLE substation tucked away next to an Apothecary on Diagon Alley. He disliked visiting DMLE at the Ministry of Magic, as he’d had far too many unpleasant experiences in that building. Alice’s partner that day was a pasty faced man named Abner Farnsworth who pulled out a witness statement form and then began to fill it in with a quill.
“Remus John Lupin.”
After stating his current residence, Abner looked up from the form and gave Remus a squinty glare.
“Occupation, Mr. Lupin?”
“I hold a number of jobs. I work as a building superintendent outside of London, fixing what needs fixing. I buy Muggle foreclosure properties and fix them up; I also tutor a number of homeschooled students in a variety of subjects.”
“Like working with the kiddies, eh?” Farnsworth asked.
“Abner, stay on topic,” Alice chimed from her desk.
“Huh,” Abner said.
“What’s your relationship with the deceased?”
“I was roommates with James all through Hogwarts; I was a groomsman at his wedding. Lily and I were Prefects together until she took over as Head Girl in her last year. After school I’ve kept in contact with them. I was at Harry’s naming and christening.”
“’ow ‘bout Black?”
“Sirius Black is my landlord; he owns the building where I’m superintendent. Like James, Sirius and I were roommates at Hogwarts, along with Peter Pettigrew.”
“Where were you on the 31st ?”
“I was on the Isle of Man.”
“Anyone who can confirm that?”
“I was staying at an Inn there.”
“Abner, this is a volunteer witness, not a suspect,” Alice growled. “I’ve checked with the Inn, he was there on the 31st.”
“’ow come you’re volunteering?”
“Auror Longbottom called on me when I was at the Inn, asking if I knew where Sirius was. I told her I didn’t know, but I’d get in touch if I found anything out.”
“So, what did you find out?”
“On the 2nd, when I came back to my flat, Sirius had been there and left a note?”
“’e’s got a key to your flat?”
“He is the landlord, but no, he doesn’t have a key. He either used Alohamora , or he picked the lock. Sirius never lets locked doors get in his way.”
“What ‘id the note say?”
“The note indicated that Peter Pettigrew had been playing us all.”
“What did you take that to mean?”
“That Peter had been misdirecting us, focusing us on one thing while the really important thing was somewhere else.”
“’ow ‘id ‘e do that?”
“He started some rumors that one of our friends was in league with ‘You-know-who’ in such a way as I became the suspect.”
“’ow’d that go over?”
“I got asked a lot of insulting questions, I got shirty in response, walked out in a huff and I didn’t see anything of James, Lily, or Sirius the week before the Potters died.”
“So, ‘ow ‘bout it?”
“How about what?”
“Are you in league with You-Know-Who?”
“’at’s all you gots to say about that?”
“I’m not a suspect, AurorFarnsworth, I’m volunteering this information, cooperating with the authorities.”
“Well, as to your coo-op-er-ation, it’s not worth spit, if you ask me,” Farnsworth said, scribbling at the bottom of the form and then tucking it into a drawer. “Get out of here, werewolf.”
Remus stood, looked briefly at Alice, and then walked out, not saying a word. Once he was safely walking in the street, he muttered to himself, “That was a complete waste of everyone’s time.”
Alice caught up with him before he left Diagon Alley.
“Listen, Remus, I’m really sorry about that, Abner’s an idiot,” Alice apologized.
“Your department seems overrun with idiots, Alice, have you asked yourself why that is so?” Remus said archly. “Please tell me that he’s not your supervisor.”
“Thankfully, no, but he is senior to me, and he’s what I drew when I asked for help in taking a statement,” Alice said. “Not everyone thinks like him.”
“There’s enough that do, Alice, that I have doubts about how long I’m going to stay in Magical England.”
“But you’re the Steward,” Alice objected.
“You keep saying that,” Remus replied. “I need to see Arcturus and see what instructions he has for me.”
“That might be a bit difficult, Remus,” Alice said. “Arcturus was admitted to St Mungo’s last night, after surviving a stroke on the floor of the Wizengamot, I heard about it at the morning briefing.”
“Is the Potter cottage still being investigated as a crime scene?”
“Probably, although I think all the evidence that can be collected has been collected at this point. It’s sealed to keep out the looters,” Alice explained.
“Can you get me inside the cordon?” Remus asked.
“What are you looking for?”
“Facts; I have precious few at the moment. Like you, I too would like to know where Harry is, and I think none of this adds up.”
“I should be able to take you by at the end of the day; can you meet me at Longbottom Hall?”
“What, you don’t want me to pick you up at the station?”
“Probably not the best idea of the day,” Alice said, smiling wryly. “Drop by after 6:00.”
“Until then,” Remus said, nodding to her before disappearing in the throng of people that suddenly appeared in the street.
Remus had been to Longbottom Hall before; it was a modest size manor house, typical of the construction of the day. The public Apparation point was a gazebo on the grounds behind the house, after the formal garden and before a meadow that in earlier times would have been used to graze sheep.
Remus sniffed. It was still being used to graze sheep. He then sniffed again, standing stock still as he watched. He was downwind, but his sound of Apparation might have been heard.
“Remus?” Alice called from the back of the house.
Remus held up his hand, acknowledging the page, searching for any sign of movement. He heard and then saw a rustling and shot a stunner into a nearby stand of gorse, hearing something human and then the crack of Apparation.
Alice was swiftly at his side.
“Alice, am I anywhere near the ward stones for Longbottom Hall?” Remus asked.
Alice gave him a careful look. “You’re near one of the ward stones,” she began.
“Someone just left your perimeter,” Remus said tersely.
“That’s impossible; no one can get inside the perimeter without permission,” Alice objected.
“Does it exclude animals?” Remus asked.
“No,” Alice said, a look of horror coming across her face.
“Peter Pettigrew is a rat Animagus,” Remus said, breaking Peter’s secret for the first time.
“But Peter’s dead,” Alice objected. “We collected his finger.”
“Go inspect your ward stone,” Remus said. “I know Peter’s smell, man or rat, and I just smelled him, and something just Apparated away from here.”
Discussion was cut off by a lance of flame that came from out of the stand of gorse. Remus pulled Alice aside, and then felt the squeeze of Apparation as she pulled him deeper into the grounds of Longbottom Hall. They appeared next to a hearth in the entryway, Alice stumbling as she slapped a dark stone on the side of the fireplace. A loud gong began to sound.
“Who all is here?” Remus asked, peeking carefully out the window. “You’ve got at least six people that I can see outside, wearing the usual masks.”
“Hellfire and damnation!” Alice cursed. “Augusta is here with Neville, the elves are somewhere, and Frank is still at work.”
Augusta came to the top of a landing, wand drawn as she looked down below.
“Alice, we appear to be under attack.”
“Yes, Mum, I know,” Alice said, throwing Floo powder into the fireplace without effect. “We’re blocked.”
“Can you get word to Frank, so he’s not caught in this?” Augusta asked.
“Allll-iiice, can you come out and play?” a woman’s voice called from outside. A fireball struck the window and splatted harmlessly away, if you can call lighting the nearby shrub on fire harmless.
“Mum, do we fight or run?” Alice asked.
“Let me get Neville,” Augusta said in reply. Evidently they were running today.
The outside of the house was surrounded by burning shrubbery while bolt after bolt of destructive magic splashed against the house. Augusta serenely gave orders to a pair of elves and then swept a round-faced toddler into her arms. She carried him for a while before handing him to Alice. She then led the way down stairs, into the kitchen, and through a hidden doorway that swung out from the back of a pantry to another set of stairs.
A house elf appeared and curtsied before Augusta Longbottom. “The bolt-hole doorway appears to be clear of magics, and no wizards are within 100 feets of the door. The nasty sticky magic wall is behind the door.”
“Thank you, Mimsy,” Alice said primly. “Unless help comes soon, Longbottom Hall will most likely burn tonight. Save what you can, but under no circumstances are you to stay in the house once the inner ward fails, do you understand me?”
“Yes, Madam Longbottom, no elves burning tonight. I will comes to you once the library and papers are secureded,” Mimsy said seriously before popping out of sight.
“Nasty sticky magic wall?” Remus asked as they went single-file down yet another flight of stairs.
“Probably some dark magic blocking portkeys and Apparation – standard Death Eater ambush tactic,” Alice said with disdain.
“Is this bolt-hole new?” Remus asked.
“Oh no,” Augusta replied. “It’s almost as old as the house, but Alice insisted that we extend the tunnels, and today I’m glad I listened to her.”
“Thank you, Mum,” Alice said, tracing some pattern on Neville’s head with her wand as they scurried. Neville appeared to be soundly asleep.
They reached the end of the tunnel and began to climb up yet another flight of stairs.
“Where are we?” Remus asked as Augusta carefully put her hand on the door.
“We’re beyond the meadow,” Augusta said. “The door’s not visible from the outside; it looks like just another rock.”
“Where are you going, Mum?” Alice asked.
“I’m going to meet with Griselda,” Augusta replied. “You have your little cube?”
“Yes, Mum,” Alice said.
“By the way, Mr. Lupin, I assume we have you to thank for the warning?” Augusta said, turning at once into a gracious hostess.
“I’m afraid so, Madam Longbottom,” Remus said.
“The House of Longbottom is indebted to you,” Augusta said sternly. “I don’t care to be in debt. Alice, go somewhere safe with Mr. Lupin. If I don’t know where you are, I can’t compromise your location. The safe word is ‘pernicious’ and the compromised word is ‘happy.’ Do you have that, Alice?”
“Go with Lupin, safe is ‘pernicious,’ compromised is ‘happy’” Alice answered.
“Good girl, now let me kiss my grand before I go slinking away from my burning house,” Augusta said, bending to plant a kiss on Neville’s sleeping brow.
She pushed the door open. The house was indeed on fire now, a herd of fiery horses leaping into the windows of the house.
“Fiendfyre,” Augusta said dismissively before she disappeared with a muted crack.
“Where to, Remus?”
“Let me take you to a vacant flat in Muggle London,” Remus said. “I don’t think anyone will look for you there. Do you know where my flat is?”
“We’ll meet there and then walk to the flat.”
Alice transfigured a blanket from her bag into a folding pram, tucking the still-sleeping Neville into the conveyance.
“Are you okay, Alice?” Remus asked.
“I’ll be okay when I know that Frank’s safe. Which way to the flat?”
“It’s about three blocks down this way,” Remus said. “I just bought a terrace house on a foreclosure sale and I’ve been cleaning it up. The keeper’s flat is finished and has a few sticks of furniture, while the balance of the units are completely bare – new electric and water service, but nothing other than that – bare walls, bare floors, and a long list of things that need to be finished before I can advertise it for lease.”
“So it’s a Muggle property?” Alice asked.
“It’s a lot easier to do business in that world, compared to Magical England,” Remus said. “
“Not surprising,” Alice said noncommittally.
“Toffs on the mundane side and Purebloods on the magical side, Alice,” Remus said flatly. “The only difference is that the mundane Toffs don’t try to write their laws to insure that I can’t earn a living.”
“Surely it’s not that bad,” Alice protested.
“Alice, I have Masteries in Charms and in Defense, and the only teaching job I can get is private tutoring because I can’t be licensed to teach as a Dark Creature ,” Remus explained. “Emigration looks good most days.”
“So why haven’t you left?” Alice asked.
“I had friends,” Remus said grimly.
“And now you don’t,” Alice said.
“I might have one friend left,” Remus said, “but the same Ministry is going to do its best to keep him locked away from me in the annex of the damned.”
Alice had no reply to that.
Remus stopped when they reached a modest terrace house, four houses side-by-side.
“The end unit has the basement turned into a flat; it’ll be where the keeper lives when I end up renting the rest of the units out.”
“Who’s the keeper going to be?” Alice asked.
“I didn’t have anyone in mind when I bought the terrace,” Remus said.
“Does Peter know about this place?” Alice said, a look of fright coming across her face.
“No, even the bank doesn’t know who bought the property. It was a blind transaction.”
“I suppose it’s good for one night,” Alice said.
Remus unlocked the gate leading into the small front garden and then unlocked the door leading to the keeper’s flat. “Your haven in the storm, Madam,” he said with a flourish as he led her into the interior..
“Thank you, Remus,” Alice said, trying hard to keep her composure.
“I’ll let you settle in while I get some take-away. What does Neville need?”
“I have some food for Neville in my bag,” Alice said. She then straightened up.
“Mimsy?” she called.
There was a moment of silence in the empty flat, and then a low popping sound as a house elf appeared.
“Yes, Madam Alice?”
“I’m glad that you’re safe, Mimsy,” Alice said.
Mimsy curtsied. “Thank you, Madam. We rescued Mistress Augusta’s things and everything from your room with Master Frank,” Mimsy reported. “We were unable to get the things from Master Neville’s before the second floor became unsafe. Mimsy is sorry for that.”
“Nonsense,” Alice replied. “You did exactly as Augusta ordered; you are a fine elf and and bring honor to the House of Longbottom.”
Mimsy gave a very low curtsy. “Mimsy thanks Madam. May Mimsy take the young master and prepare a place for him?”
“Thank you, Mimsy, that would be most welcome,” Alice answered.
Remus walked to the small galley and opened a cabinet, chuckling at what he saw.
“The cupboards are stocked,” Remus announced.
“Oh?” Alice said inquisitively.
“There was nothing there this morning,” Remus explained. “I’m not used to the ways of house elves.”
“They can be amazingly efficient,” Alice said. “It took some getting used to after I married Frank. We didn’t have house elves growing up in Leeds. If the offer is still good, I would love some good take-away.”
“Certainly, I’ll be back in half an hour or so,” Remus said, nodding to Alice as he left the flat. He smiled when he heard the lock turn in the door.
Remus was wearing his “Winston Churchill” uniform – a dark wool suit topped by a very black homburg hat. He felt a little out of sorts wearing it, but from what he remembered of his mum’s etiquette lessons, it was appropriate for the mission. He knocked on the door a second time.
The door opened soundlessly, revealing a reasonably large (for a member of his species) house elf wearing a scarlet tabard. The elf looked at him inscrutably.
“Mister Arcturus Black called for me,” Remus announced.
“I will see if he is able to see you,” the elf said, quietly shutting the door in his face.
“Well, he’s got the attitude down,” Remus mused.
The door opened and the elf looked at him warily. “The Master will see you now; walk this way.”
The outside noise vanished when the door closed behind him. He walked behind the elf on lush dark carpet through a dark, wood-paneled hallway. The elf opened a door at the end of the hallway that led into a sunny, airy room that was decorated with weapons and stuffed trophy animals, including a particularly magnificent specimen of wolf. “Mister Remus Lupin,” the elf announced before closing the door behind him.
Arcturus Black, a large, weathered man, was reclining on a chaise lounge, wrapped in blankets.
“If you will excuse me, Mr. Lupin, I will not rise to greet you. I’d like to say that I’m too tired, but the truth is that my legs don’t work anymore,” the Black Patriarch said.
“I’m sorry to hear that, sir,” Remus said.
“Come closer,” Arcturus said. He held Remus in a steady glare, apparently looking for something.
There was a long silence. Remus knew better than to break the silence.
“I hear that you got Augusta and Alice Longbottom out of Longbottom Hall,” Arcturus said.
“I was lucky in my timing,” Remus said.
“That Napoleon chap said that he believed in luck,” Arcturus said.
“Yes, he liked to promote officers who were lucky,” Remus said.
“You haven’t picked up the Steward’s signet,” Arcturus said, a statement, not a question.
“It’s been overtaken by events,” Remus said noncommittally.
“What events might those be?”
“Your nephew and I had a bit of a spat, which we’ve had before, and then my friends were murdered, and your nephew was hauled off to Azkaban a few days later,” Remus said by way of explanation.
“And so?” Arcturus asked.
“I wasn’t sure that Sirius still wanted me for the job,” Remus said.
“And you weren’t sure you wanted to work for a traitor,” Arcturus offered.
“The thought did pass my mind, but that too has been overtaken by events,” Remus admitted.
“Sirius may have killed the Pettigrew boy, but he never followed the Dark Lord,” Arcturus growled.
“Sirius most certainly did not kill Peter Pettigrew, and yes, I agree, he never betrayed the Potters to the Pretender,” Remus agreed.
“And your basis for those statements?”
“As to the first, I’m reasonably certain that Peter Pettigrew was the sapper who took down one of the ward stones at Longbottom Hall,” Remus said.
Arcturus raised an eyebrow.
“As to the second, Sirius loved James and Lily, and despised the Pretender,” Remus said softly.
“While the Black family stands in the old traditions, I have not bent my knee to the man you call the Pretender,” Arcturus announced. “Regulus Black pledged himself to Voldemort, the fool, and now he’s dead.”
“I wasn’t aware of that, I’m sorry for your loss,” Remus said automatically.
“The boy made a foolish mistake,” Arcturus growled. “That’s neither here nor there. Are you in, or are you out, Remus John Lupin?”
“What are your terms?” Remus countered.
“To protect the wealth of the family, to protect the family in perilous times, and to insure that the new Head receives the whole of the estate, rather than what’s left after the jackals and the crows steal what they can,” Arcturus said soberly.
“I see no problems with that charge,” Remus said cautiously.
“Even if Sirius rots in Azkaban?” Arcturus asked.
“Especially if Sirius is in Azkaban.”
“I know about the Potter boy; if Sirius is unable to discharge his duties, you are to do so in his stead,” Arcturus said.
“What if there’s a conflict?”
“I will rely on your sense of duty,” Arcturus said. “I’ll most likely be dead by this time next week, so I have to trust Hecate that you’re her provision.”
Arcturus coughed and then rang a small bell. The house elf in the scarlet tabard brought in a small wooden box and laid it delicately on his master’s lap. Arcturus opened the box, twisting a ring off his left hand which he placed into the box, next to a smaller signet. “If you take the oath today, these are yours.”
Remus took the box, and then he took the oath.
Yes, I’m back.
I was supposed to be working on a little story with another writer, but it hit a wall that I have not yet resolved. This story started forming in my mind when I was idle, so I started poking at it. The hotel scene takes place in an Inn on the Isle of Man, which for the geographically challenged, is an island in the Atlantic between Ireland and Britain. In my imaginary world, the magical government of the Isle of Man is not subject to the British Ministry of Magic.
Remus Lupin is another JK Rowling character who disappoints me. In canon he’s sickly, exhausted, and obviously penniless. In the later books of the canon he’s a whiny loser who lets his disability define him, but this outcome is not inevitable. He’s been a werewolf since he was five years old, but he successfully made it through Hogwarts. Due to the prejudices of the Wizarding world, it’s impossible for him to find employment, and as a wizard in the Muggle world, he’d have a hard time finding and keeping employment, what with monthly absences due to illness.
Yet Remus is obviously very smart, and reasonably determined. If given access to a bit of capital, he could create his own employment in the mundane world, given smarts, magic and some hard work. In various ages oppressed minorities have figured out ways to thrive, notwithstanding that the rules were written to hobble their success.
This book is AU to pretty much all of canon after the death of Lily and James.
Thanks as always to Tim, for technical support, and to Garden Girl, who is most definitely not a nerd, but does have a strange fondness for the Oxford comma.
Copyright 2017 firstname.lastname@example.org - all rights reserved - Harry Potter belongs to JKR, but against all the world, this story is mine.
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