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Steward of the House of Black
Chapter the Second
Steward of the House of Black
Chapter the Second
Remus had been briefed on the appropriate protocol; he knocked on the door and without waiting for an answer, entered the room.
The goblin named Ironsmack looked up from a ledger, an exquisitely crafted pair of bifocals hanging from the end of his nose.
“Ah, Steward,” he said with some satisfaction. “I expected you today.”
“Yes, Manager,” Remus said tersely.
“You have them?”
“Yes, Manager,” Remus said, producing a small box.
Ironsmack opened the box, a brief look of surprise on his face. “There are three rings here,” he began.
“The heir left his ring with me the morning of the day he was arrested,” Remus said.
“Most curious,” Ironsmack said. “Do you know why?”
“I suspect that it was to remind me of my duties, but as I’ve been unable to contact him in Azkaban, that’s only a guess.”
“What needs to be done, Manager?” Remus asked.
There was a long silence.
“Normally, that’s something that you’d tell me, but I understand that you’re not quite familiar with your duties,” Ironsmack said. “I am manager of the Black accounts, you are Steward of the House of Black, so it is actually your place to direct me, not vice versa.”
“Well then, Manager Ironsmack, tell me what my duties are at the moment,” Remus said, trying to hide a smile.
“Very good, Steward Black,” Ironsmack said. “You’ve brought me the rings, which establish that the old Head of House is dead and that you are the Steward. You should wear the Steward’s ring at all times when you are performing your duties as Steward. When you wear the ring, you speak for the Blacks in general and the Head of House in particular. Unless you have a good medical reason, you should probably leave it in place at all times. I have it on good authority that it will transform with you when your ailment afflicts you.”
“That is good to know,” Remus said, plucking the smallest ring from the box and placing it on the smallest finger on his left hand. He felt a pop of magic as the ring sized itself to his hand, and then a flush of warmth like the first time he held his wand.
“Where is the new Head of House?” Ironsmack asked.
“As best as I can tell, Azkaban,” Remus replied. “Either he’s had a secret trial or he’s awaiting trial. Can you recommend a solicitor?”
“There’s only one that I’d trust at the moment. If he’s between cases right now, he should be amenable to being retained,” Ironsmack said. “I’ll retain him this afternoon if that is your direction.”
“Manager Ironsmack, retain a suitable solicitor to represent the Head of House,” Remus directed.
“It’s so good to see that the young are capable of being trained,” Ironsmack said, a hint of a grin passing across his otherwise stony face.
“What do you recommend as needing my immediate attention?”
“You need to collect the rents from the tenants, which will secure your reputation as the Steward, and reinforce that in the absence of the Head of House that the tenants still have duties to the House of Black. In addition to whatever is due, they are to pay two Knuts, pennies for the ferryman as it were, a death tax.” Ironsmack pushed a leather portfolio forward towards Remus. “You’ll find a list of properties here.”
“What all do we have?”
“Orchards, mines, grazing fields, growing fields, two wharves, three factories, a building that in a prior age was a bawdy house and now houses an accounting firm, two taverns, and a number of residential properties. There’s also a hunting estate in Wales, but the tenant running that property died without issue, so you’ll probably have to chase squatters off the land. By the time you finish collecting the rents, I suspect the solicitor will be ready for the initial meeting.”
Ironsmack returned his attention to the ledger in front of him, jotting a few entries in one particular column. The interview was apparently over.
“Good day, Manager,” Remus said, picking up the portfolio.
Ironsmack looked up from the ledger. “Good day to you, Steward.”
Remus reckoned that he’d visit the businesses during the day and the residential properties during the early evening. A few of the businesses were in arrears, but all of them managed to produce envelopes with bank notes, checks, or bags of galleons, depending on whether it was a mundane or magical establishment. He noted with amusement that the former bawdy house turned accounting firm still had a rather opulent reception area, complete with a functioning player piano, but the managing partner greeted him without any apparent surprise and had his payment ready in full, so Remus figured he would refrain from making any comments on the décor.
The two taverns were rather more seedy than he expected, one having a card parlor upstairs and the other having a collection of upstairs apartments that were exceptionally well soundproofed, but still reeked with the unmistakable (to him) scents of human bodily fluids. These businesses too had their payments ready in full, so Remus concluded that he’d save the discussion of what was or wasn’t happening on the premises for a later date.
By dinner time of the second day he finished collecting rent at the last residential property, leaving him with a trip to Gringotts to make a deposit, a visit to the carry out for dinner, and then back to his flat. He ate half of the take out, putting the balance away in the refrigerator for a later meal and then washed the dishes that had piled up in his sink.
Remus didn’t mind washing by hand, even though he’d been shown the charm many a time by witches who couldn’t understand the attraction to doing something by hand that could just as easily be done with magic. His soapy meditations were interrupted by the jangling of the black wall phone on the wall opposite the sink. He wiped his hands on a dish towel and turned to pick up the phone before the third ring.
“Oh, Alice, I wasn’t expecting you. How did you get this number? Okay, you’re an Auror, I get it.”
“Now? You want to me to look over a cold crime scene in the dark?”
“Okay, I understand. Give me ten minutes and I’ll meet you in the square at Godric’s Hollow.”
“Uh huh, thanks, goodbye.”
Remus wiped down the counter and then went to the closet in the room he called his study, finding a satchel and filling it with equipment. Looking one last time inside the satchel he grabbed a long coat and left the flat, locking the door behind him. A minute later he was standing by a fountain in what passed for a town square in Godric’s Hollow.
“Hello, Remus,” Frank Longbottom boomed, moving forward to shake his hand.
“Good evening, Frank, and thanks for letting me visit,” Remus said, returning Frank’s strong grip with one of his own.
“Ah, they ordered that the perimeter be taken down tonight, so it’s not like you’re getting any special favors,” Frank said.
“Thanks anyway, Frank,” Remus said warmly.
“What do you want to see first?” Frank asked.
“Do you know where the ward anchors are supposed to be?” Remus asked.
“Haven’t a clue. Why’s that relevant?” Frank inquired.
“Don’t know, it might not be relevant, but I suspect that’s going to be fairly close to the house,” Remus said.
Remus opened his bag, pulling out an electric torch affixed to a band, which he stretched across his head, placing the torch in the middle of his forehead.
“What’s that for?” Frank asked.
“We’ve got just the shank of daylight left,” Remus began, “my nose may be sharper than yours, but my night vision’s not all that hot, and I don’t want to miss anything.”
Remus then pulled an old fashioned dowsing rod from his bag.
“Looking for water, Remus?” Frank asked with a chuckle.
“Looking for variations in thaumatic energy,” Remus explained. “If James followed his family traditions, he probably used granite ward stones to anchor the wards for the house – they should still be relatively hot, magically speaking.”
“You-know-who brought the wards down,” Frank objected.
“I don’t know that,” Remus said. “For all I know, James opened the door and called him in from the street.”
“Suite yourself,” Frank said. “I’m going to join Alice in the house.”
“Thanks, Frank,” Remus said to the departing Auror’s back.
Remus began walking in a circle around the cottage. Once or twice he felt the dowsing rod twitch, but nothing strong enough to leave a marker. On his third lap around the house he got a powerful hit on the dowsing rod. He pulled a white ball out of his pocket and dropped it on the ground, moving on in his circular path. He got three more hits, each of which were marked with a white ball.
“Alice? Frank? Can you join me out here?” Remus called in the direction of the cottage.
“What is it, Remus?” Alice called from the front door.
“I need your help, I don’t want to be accused of manufacturing evidence,” Remus replied.
Alice nodded and a moment later, Frank and Alice were walking arm in arm towards him.
“What do you have?” Frank asked.
“I think I’ve marked the ward stones,” Remus explained. Taking his wand he poked at the nearest white ball, which began to glow. “I was looking for hot-spots, thinking that would possibly indicate the location of the ward stones.”
“But there’s nothing there,” Frank objected.
“If you’re doing warding in the old-school fashion, the ward stones were buried,” Remus explained. “Notice the location of the balls,” he said, whipping his wand in an arc, causing the remaining balls to light up.
“There’s four of them,” Alice said. “That’s not right, ward stones are usually set in odd numbers, prime numbers if possible.”
“Exactly,” Remus said. “So, if there was a fifth stone, where would it be?”
Frank looked at the spacing of the glowing balls. “It’d be over there,” Frank said, pointing to an area covered in periwinkle ground cover.
“Show me,” Remus said.
Frank loped over to the area, brushing aside the plants with his foot as he went along. “There’s a hole here,” he exclaimed.
“How fascinating,” Remus said. “Describe it to me.”
“It’s about eight inches across. About six inches down there’s rock,” Frank said, probing into the hole with his wand.
“Describe what’s in the hole,” Remus called.
“It looks like a round stone, I don’t know how deep, and it’s covered in dried blood.”
“Could you be so kind as to take a sample?” Remus asked.
Frank was already taking out an evidence bottle, pulling a knife from his pocket to get a scraping from the bottom of the hole. He carefully removed clotted soil from the tip of his knife, letting it fall into a small glass jar which he then sealed and then scratched his initials and date on the lid.
“So, what am I looking at, oh wise wizard,” Frank asked.
“Probably the outer perimeter,” Remus said. “If it was Dumbledore’s design, that will be the only ring of ward stones, and he was relying entirely on the Fidelius charm.”
“That’s a charm, not a ward,” Frank objected.
“Charms fade,” Remus explained. “If you want it to last for years, you’d cast the charm, using runes and ward anchors.”
“Why blood?” Frank asked.
“The secret keeper’s blood could neutralize the binding to the ward anchor,” Remus explained. “Do that, and the whole charm collapses.”
“Which might be why we couldn’t find any trace of it,” Alice said.
“That and you were probably looking too close to the house,” Remus said without rancor.
“I’ll concede that point,” Frank said.
“The question is whose blood is it?” Remus asked.
“Any guesses?” Frank asked.
“If the conventional wisdom is correct, it’s from Sirius Black,” Remus said. “I’m betting against the conventional wisdom.”
“You rebel, you,” Frank said with good humor.
“What next, great detective?” Frank said.
“Now I’m going to look for the next ring of ward stones,” Remus said.
“But you said that Dumbledore would only use one layer around the cottage,” Frank objected.
“That’s theory, Frank, I want to see what the evidence says,” Remus said, smirking.
Remus spent the next half hour carefully walking in circles around the house, coming closer with each circuit. He never found anything worth marking, and once he reached the front steps, he put his dowsing rod away. Stepping into the house he turned off the electric torch.
“So, assume that I’ve never been here before, give me the tour,” Remus said to Frank. Frank looked to Alice, and then Alice began speaking.
“The house was occupied by three magicals: James, Lily, and Harry. James and Lily shared a bedroom upstairs and across the hall was a nursery,” Alice began. “There were remains of a dinner in the kitchen, so I’d assume that they’d had dinner. There was bathwater in the bathtub, so I’m suspecting that after dinner, James cleaned up and Lily went to put Harry to bed, after a bath.”
Alice walked to the stairs.
“There was spellfire exchanged. James always was good with a wand, but he either got caught without his wand, or he lost it in the fight. The wand was found in the kitchen, and James’s body was found on the stairs. Apparent cause of death was the killing curse.”
“Go on,” Remus prompted.
“Lily was found dead in the nursery, also apparently from the killing curse. Harry wasn’t found in the nursery, and while there was a shadow nimbus on the wall opposite Lily, the pretender’s body was gone, either demolished in blast of magic, or someone unknown came to take the body away,” Alice recited.
“Your best guess?” Remus asked.
“I think he cursed Lily and it blasted back on him; I don’t think we’re ever going to find a body.”
“That’s a lot of magic,” Remus said.
“Yeah, and Lily was a whole lot of witch,” Alice said in admiration.
“There were footprints around the building, and oddly enough, tire tracks,” Frank said, “wider than a bicycle, probably a motorcycle. One set of prints never got too close to the house, the remaining prints all came and left the house. We’ve checked them against prints from James’s and Lily’s shoes, and they didn’t make the tracks.”
“Well, it’s nice to see a well investigated crime scene,” Remus said.
“It was the least I could do; James had my back any number of times out in the field. He wasn’t an Auror, but he would have made a fine one,” Frank said.
“What do we know about the tracks?”
“Number one,” Alice said, “he’s the one who didn’t enter the house. He or she left the smallest tracks. The prints are of a man’s shoe, but they’re on the small side. Numbers two and three are about the same size, but had distinctly different heels. Number four is slightly larger, and number five has enormous shoes, complete with hob nails. We have a lead on number five, but we’ll discuss that later.”
“Any other evidence in the house?” Remus asked.
“Nothing helpful,” Alice replied.
“What’s going to happen to the house?” Remus asked.
“We took down the crime scene barrier before we called you,” Frank volunteered. “There’s talk at the Ministry that this will be turned into some sort of memorial to the end of the pretender’s reign of terror.”
“You don’t sound convinced that’s a good idea,” Remus said.
“If Harry’s still alive, this is his house,” Frank said. “Somehow I doubt the Ministry is going to put any money in escrow for Harry.”
“I’m not betting against it,” Remus said.
“Remus, I owe you. Without your quick thinking I’m not sure that Alice would have made it out of Longbottom Hall,” Frank said.
“Put it on my tab,” Remus said.
“Frank, let’s take him out to dinner,” Alice suggested.
“I’ve had dinner, thanks,” Remus said, hoping to deflect this conversation.
“Coffee, dessert?” Alice said. “We’d like to talk to you about Harry.”
“Well, that I can’t turn down,” Remus said. “Where are you living now?”
“I’m afraid we can’t tell you,” Frank said, “but we can bring you there.”
Remus arched an eyebrow. “I suppose that’s understandable, given the times.”
Without much grumbling, Remus donned the proffered blindfold and then was side-along Apparated to wherever the Longbottoms were living at the moment. Once inside the house, the blindfold was removed. Remus noted that all the windows were curtained, a reasonable precaution if you didn’t want a guest to figure out the location of the house.
“Safe house?” Remus asked.
“Not an official one,” Frank replied. “May I take your coat?”
“Thanks,” Remus said, removing his overcoat and handing it to Frank. “Is there a place I can wash up?”
“Yeah, it’s through that door and to the left,” Frank instructed.
As Remus gave his hands a thorough scrub and then splashed water on his face, he tried to predict how the conversation with Frank would go. Wiping his hands and face, he was cautiously optimistic that the conversation would be better than the last Order meeting he’d attended.
As he returned to the main room, Alice was pouring coffee. At a small dining table there were three plates already arranged with a narrow slice of a dark cake on each plate.
“Frank’s rather fond of ‘Death by Chocolate’ and if my memory serves correctly, you’re partial to it as well,” Alice said, sitting down at the table opposite where Remus was standing.
Remus sat down, pulling the coffee cup to him.
Frank scowled at his chocolate dessert, finally picking up a fork to tear off a chunk from the dish.
“I’m getting a lot of flak at the Ministry for even associating with you,” Frank began. “It’s the usual idiocy – you’re a werewolf, you work for Black, you’re really in league with the pretender, et cetera, et cetera.”
“So, what’s exactly new about that, Frank?” Remus asked.
“It means that when I ask why Sirius Black is being held at Azkaban without trial, that I’m obviously a stooge for Remus Lupin, notorious werewolf,” Frank replied. “Apparently the only people who think it’s odd that there’s been no trial are me, Alice, and Alastor Moody.”
“Really, Moody has doubts about Black?” Remus asked.
“I didn’t say that,” Frank said with a grin. “Moody thinks that everyone is guilty – of something. He just wants to have a trial, says ‘you develop a lot of investigative leads listening to Defendants singing on the witness stand.’”
“Yeah, that sounds like Moody,” Remus said.
Alice stifled a laugh.
“To complicate things, it looks like Bagnold is either going to step down by the end of the week, or lose a vote of no confidence in the Wizengamot,” Frank explained.
“Who are the likely successors?” Remus asked.
“That’s the problem. Scrimgeour would love the job, but he’s too junior, plus he lacks backing from the old families. Bones would be a great choice, but she’s just establishing herself as the Head of Magical Law Enforcement and doesn’t want to let go of that job. Tiberius Ogden might be convinced to take the job, but he’s old, older than Bagnold,” Frank said somberly.
“Dumbledore?” Remus asked hopefully.
“Doesn’t want the job, says he won’t take it under any conditions,” Frank said. “That leaves us with Fudge.”
“Who?” Remus asked incredulously.
“Exactly,” Frank said. “Mid-level executive in Magical Accidents and Catastrophes.”
“Who’s backing him?” Remus asked pointedly.
“He seems to have strong support from Lucius Malfoy.”
“So he’s a sock puppet for the Death Eater Establishment.”
“That’s about the looks of it,” Frank said.
“You know, I would have been very happy if I’d gone to bed tonight and never had this conversation,” Remus grumbled.
“It’s better that you know, Remus,” Alice interjected.
“I suppose,” Remus said, finally picking up his fork and breaking off a piece of the dense flourless chocolate cake. “Well done, Alice.”
“That was Frank’s doing, actually,” Alice said. “He enjoys working in the kitchen. Changing the subject, what we really wanted to talk to you about was Harry.”
“I’m all ears,” Remus said.
“There’s not much,” Frank said. “Rubeus Hagrid was talking. Apparently he picked Harry up the night of October 31st and delivered him somewhere. When I pressed him, he stopped talking, saying ‘I waddn’t ‘posed to be talking ‘bout dat,’ which answers one of the questions, namely, who was the owner of the extremely big, hobnailed boots that were at the crime scene, but not why he was sent to a location that was under Fidelius to fetch the only surviving member of the Potter family. How did Dumbledore know to send him that quickly?”
“And where was he sent?” Frank asked.
“James had no immediate family,” Remus said, “but Lily has a sister.”
“A witch?” Alice asked.
“No, a Muggle,” Remus answered. “The sister’s not too bad, but her husband is terrible: loud, bombastic, bigoted, and he hates magic with a passion.”
“Why would Dumbledore send Harry there?” Alice asked.
“Security through obscurity,” Remus answered. “Dumbledore’s fond of that tactic.”
“Do you know where she is?” Frank asked.
“No, but I can find out easily,” Remus replied.
“How long will that take?” Alice asked.
“I’m stretched thin right now,” Remus began.
“I’m his godmother, Remus, he should be with me,” Alice objected.
“I agree, he should be with you,” Remus said. “I’ll push a few things back and see what I can find out this week. Without betraying Ministry secrets, have you confirmed that Sirius hasn’t had a trial?”
Frank was silent for a long time. “No one’s willing to answer that question, so I’m reckoning that the answer is ‘no.’”
“That stinks, but it’s something that I can work with,” Remus said.
“Does Sirius have an heir?” Frank asked.
“I have no idea,” Remus replied. “Why is that relevant?”
“For the sake of discussion, if the heir dies without ever being recognized as Head of the family, who’s next in line?” Frank asked.
“It’s certainly not me, I’m just the Steward,” Remus objected.
“Think about that, Remus, who would benefit if Sirius were to die in prison, or in the alternative, who would benefit if he just disappeared?” Frank asked darkly.
“I think I know the answer, and I’m not particularly happy with it,” Remus said. He pulled a small notebook from his pocket and wrote a quick note. “Yet another thing to get done.”
“One more thing,” Frank began.
Remus said nothing, but arched his eyebrow.
“Dumbledore’s sealed the Potter wills,” Frank said.
“So?” Remus replied.
“The wills establish who Harry’s godparents are,” Alice explained.
“And you don’t have a copy?” Remus asked.
Both Alice and Frank shook their heads.
“Baptismal certificate?” Remus asked.
“Don’t have a copy, there’s nothing in the parish registry, and the priest is nowhere to be found,” Frank said. “Did Sirius have a copy?”
“Of the wills or the baptismal certificate?”
“I haven’t a clue. Sirius isn’t the best administrator, which probably explains why I manage his rental property, but he never asked me to take care of his records or correspondence,” Remus said, jotting another entry in his pocket notebook.
There was a long uncomfortable silence. Remus heard a clock ticking in another room.
“What’s Dumbledore’s angle? He sends Hagrid to Godric’s Hollow shortly after the murders, snatches Harry, stashes him somewhere, and then uses his political powers to make everything about this mess a secret. By sealing the will he’s making it more or less impossible for anyone to prove that they should be Harry’s guardian,” Remus grumbled. “I’m seriously indebted to the man, but he’s starting to get on my nerves.”
“Can you find Harry?” Alice asked earnestly.
“Isn’t that an Auror job?” Remus countered.
“We’re being watched – by the Ministry, by Dumbledore’s men, by the pretender’s remaining followers,” Frank explained. “We interrogated some low-level Death Eaters captured last week. It seems the attack on Longbottom Hall was supposed to be a kidnapping – the inner circle of Death Eaters aren’t convinced that the pretender is dead. Some of them think that the Ministry has him stashed somewhere.”
“Which means that someone thinks you two are important,” Remus said.
“Yeah, we were on the original investigation, but right now it’s being driven politically, so we might as well be part of the night janitorial crew,” Frank said.
“What do you want me to do if I find Harry?” Remus asked.
“Nothing – just let us know so we can figure out how we can get him home without having Dumbledore taking him away from us,” Alice said.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Remus said. “Thanks for coffee, thanks for the dessert, but I think I need to get home now.”
“Frank, can you Apparate him home? I need to pick up Neville from Augusta,” Alice said.
“Sure,” Frank said, handing the blindfold back to Remus.
Remus woke the next day somewhat grumpy. His duties as Steward were beginning to take over his life. Instead of a part-time property management job, supplemented by tutoring and his ongoing studies and independent research, he was doing all of that (minus the research and study) plus playing amateur investigator, collecting rents on behalf of an Ancient and Noble house, and trying to solve the twin mysteries of where was Harry Potter, and how was he to get Sirius out of Azkaban? Thinking about it further, he remembered the deep despair the morning he learned that James and Lily were dead, and concluded that griping about having too much work to do was silly.
Breakfast was eggs and toast, accompanied by a strong cup of tea. He’d come to favor coffee at breakfast, but felt wasteful brewing a full pot when cooking for one, and dreaded drinking old, cold coffee, so he limited his coffee to working breakfasts out of the house. Now that he had more than two knuts to rub together, he would treat himself to an occasional meal out, but he still felt odd having money to spend. After finishing breakfast he read the headlines in the Daily Prophet, and the first section of the Times, promising to finish the paper whenever he got back that day. He then ran some water in the sink to wash up when a crow alighted on his windowsill, staring at him in corvid impudence before pecking at the window.
Remus opened the window, allowing the crow to fly in, landing on his breakfast table. The crow deposited a thin envelope on the table before looking around the kitchen. The crow gave him a disappointed look.
“See here,” Remus began, “if you’d come fifteen minutes earlier, I’d have eggs for you.”
The crow gave him a glare and then nodded his head once before pushing the envelope on top of the Times and then flying out the window again. Remus dried his hands and went back to the table, noticing that the crow had besmirched the Daily Prophet with droppings.
“Yeah, well, I too prefer the Times,” Remus said, tossing the now soiled Daily Prophet into the rubbish bin before picking up the envelope. The envelope was paper, not parchment, but it was quite high quality bond. Tearing the envelope open he found a simple card, printed with the name and address of the solicitor that Ironsmack had mentioned with a date and time, the date being the day after tomorrow and the time being 9 o’clock in the morning. Remus noted the appointment in his pocket notebook, and returned to washing the dishes.
He had one more loose end to wrap up before meeting with the solicitor, namely visiting the now vacant hunting lodge in Wales.
As always, thanks to Garden Girl for the beta.
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