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Steward of the House of Black

Chapter the Third

Ironsmack wrote that the hunting lodge hadn’t been used for more than two years, and that the caretaker had died three months previously, most likely as the result of a stroke. He included the local constable’s report that a delivery man found the caretaker unconscious and sprawled on the steps leading to the cottage, but the local ambulance was unable to do anything other than confirm the time of death for the coroner.

The lodge was in a part of the country he’d never visited before, so Apparation was out. From Swansea he’d rented a car, traveling slowly though the countryside as he tried to make sense of his map. After missing an unmarked road (three times) he finally found the winding road leading to the lodge.

The caretaker’s cottage was in a reasonable state of repair, better than the lodge that loomed in the background which looked in need of a new roof. From the appearance of pens and coops, the caretaker had kept chickens and goats in the past, but Remus’ nose didn’t catch a whiff of either animal at the moment. The windows were intact in the cottage, so Remus suspected that the building hadn’t been vandalized.

He bypassed the cottage for the moment and walked up to the main lodge. It was a sprawling building, two stories, built of stone, and apparently added on to numerous times over the last hundred years. There were several outbuildings resembling barns, and a lower building that had probably been a stable at one time. His nose again told him that there’d been no horses there for months, if not years. Circling around the lodge he saw that all the doors and windows on the ground floor were intact, but noted a few windows on the second floor that needed new glass. He reckoned that his recent experience in rehabilitating terrace houses would stand him in good stead if the lodge were to be rehabilitated.

Approaching the caretaker’s cottage, he saw that the door was ajar, and pushed it open with caution. He never saw the cudgel that almost crushed his skull, but he saw a blur of motion in his peripheral vision, which was enough to step to the side and duck. The cudgel smashed into the door, shattering the small window pane in the center of the door.

He saw the cudgel the next time it swung, and grabbed the shaft to pull his assailant off balance, using her momentum against her. Some part of him said “you’re being attacked by a girl who’s trying to kill you,” but he filed that observation away for a less hectic time.

Beatings can go on for hours, but most genuine fights are resolved in seconds, assuming evenly matched combatants. His assailant dropped the cudgel when her arm began to bend at an unnatural angle. She’d then produced a knife from goodness knows where and tried to stab him in the leg, which he was able to deflect partially before he disarmed her, again. They then went into a grapple, not all that different from the numerous bouts Remus had waged in his youth, although he’d never had an opponent quite this small before. After some inconclusive rolling on the floor, Remus managed to execute a half-nelson and then a full-nelson, pressing her head down whilst pulling her arms back at the shoulders.

“Do you yield?” he hissed.

“I cain’t,” she gasped.

“Do you yield?” he repeated.

“I CAIN’T,” she bellowed. “You won’t let me move my neck.”

Remus relaxed his hold slightly and then felt a pulse of magic from the girl, who then changed her shape; the transformation had surprised him enough that he’d let his hold relax. The transforming shape slipped out of the floral print dress she’d been wearing and then twisted around to face him again, this time as a pale white wolf, teeth bared with a menacing growl.

“Sweet mercy,” Remus exclaimed.

The wolf continued to growl, making small steps towards the door. Remus realized that the only thing blocking the wolf’s exit was his body, so he guessed that the wolf would feint a lunge at him and then make for the door. He covertly grasped the base of his wand and as the wolf sprang, Remus pivoted to one side and shot a stunning spell into the wolf’s mouth. She dropped like a bag of rocks, albeit a bag of rocks with a lot of forward momentum.

Remus rubbed his face while he pondered his options. Figuring he had nothing to lose, he invoked the spell to reverse an Animagus transfiguration and was mildly surprised to see the white wolf shift back into the form of a naked, unconscious girl. Apart from a crude sheath hanging from a cord necklace, she was as naked as the day she was born. Remus found a chair in the cottage, picked her up and then sat her flopping body into the chair, and then conjured thick ropes, binding her ankles and wrists to the chair. He then picked up the dress and draped it strategically over the girl and then invoked the Ennervate spell. The girl shook her head, and then looked around the room, trying to focus, until she spotted Remus.

“So, are you going to do me now?” she asked, trying to look brave and nonchalant.

“Not really, it hadn’t entered my mind,” Remus replied. “I didn’t know how long you’d be knocked out, so I figured that binding you to the chair took priority over preserving your modesty.”

“Huh,” the girl grunted. “Lots of folk have seen me nekkid.”

“I didn’t want to be one of them when I came here today,” Remus said. “What’s your name?”

“People call me Daisy,” the girl replied sullenly.

“Okay, that’s what people call you, but what name did your parents give you?” Remus asked.

“My mum named me Clarissa,” the girl replied, venom dripping as she enunciated the word ‘mum.’

“Last name?”

“I dunno,” the girl answered. “I wanna ask you a question now.”

“That’s fair, I guess,” Remus said, smiling.

“What are you?” the girl asked. “You drive a car and dress like a normal, but you smell like one of us, and you carry a wand like one of them. You smell really, really nice, by the way.” A blush began at her shoulders and worked up her neck and face.

“Thank you, I guess. I’m a wizard,” Remus replied. “I work a lot in the non-magical world, so I know how to drive a car and do all those normal things. What do you mean that I ‘smell like one of us?’”

“Us,” the girl replied, “you know, wolves, man-wolves.”

“I am a werewolf,” Remus said, without embarrassment.

“What are you doing working for them then?”

“I ask myself that question a lot,” Remus said cryptically. “So, next question. Why did you try to beat my brains out?”

“I wasn’t gonna kill you, I just wanted to skeer you off,” the girl said, as if that was a complete explanation.

“And why did you want to scare me off?”

“Gramps told me to,” the girl said.

“Why did Gramps tell you to scare me off?”

“I dunno, when Gramps tells me to do sumthin’ I does it, that’s just how it is.”

“Where’s Gramps now?” Remus asked. He then heard a metallic click behind him.

“He’s behind you,” the girl said in a matter of fact manner.

“Put yer hands up, Mister Wizard, and then drop your wand, real careful like,” a gruff voice announced from behind him.

Remus formulated a plan on the spot. He carefully lifted his hands while combining a chain of spells in his mind. He shimmered out of sight just as there was a blinding flash of light and a loud bang, and then reappeared behind the man, grabbing at the man’s hand holding an old, dirty revolver while stunning him with his wand.

Remus gave the now stunned man a thorough search, pulling a pocket knife and a fixed blade knife from his pockets before trussing him up in the remaining chair in the cottage.

“How come he gets to keep his clothes on?” Daisy asked.

“Because he wasn’t naked when I stunned him,” Remus replied.

“I wasn’t nekkid when you stunned me,” Daisy objected.

“Your dress was on the floor,” Remus countered.

“But I wasn’t nekkid,” Daisy argued.

“Let’s wake Gramps up,” Remus said.

The man blinked several times and then squinted at Remus.

“Pretty slick, Mister Wizard,” the man said.

“You can call me Remus, or Mister Lupin if you insist on formality,” Remus said.

“Why are you here, Mr. Lupin?” the man asked.

“I am the Steward of the House of Black, and I’m trying to find out what’s happening with this hunting lodge, which I’m told is owned by the House of Black.”

“You gonna run us off, or have us arrested cause of the goats?” the man asked.

“I wasn’t planning on it,” Remus replied. “What happened to the goats?”

“After Clement died, some boys from the town came and stole the chickens and set the goats loose in the woods. We never touched the chickens, but we did eat a few goats,” the man said.

“That doesn’t concern me,” Remus said. “How long have you been living here?”

The man screwed up his face as if performing addition in his head. “’bout sixty years,” he answered.

“And how long have you been a werewolf?”

“’bout a hunnert,” the man answered.

“That’s amazing,” Remus exclaimed. “You must be the oldest werewolf in Great Britain.”

“I don’t know about that,” the man replied. “I’ll be a hunnert ‘n twenty in the spring, so I guess I’m pretty old for a wolf.”

“How many wolves around here?”

“Mr. Lupin, there haven’t been real wolves here in Wales for four hunnert years or so, but there’s a dozen of us; four pairs, two singletons, the girl and me. My woman Bessie died almost two years ago.”

“You the leader?”

“Aye, I’m the leader, as much as there can be a leader,” the man said.

“How did you get along with the old caretaker?”

“Clement? He didn’t bother us, and we didn’t bother him,” the man replied.

“Why did you set Daisy on me?” Remus asked.

“I didn’t know she was going to try to brain you,” the man said sheepishly. “Wizards wouldn’t come here in a motorcar, so we just wanted to scare you off, figuring you had no business here. You gonna run us off?”

“Should I?” Remus asked.

“I don’t know where we’d go,” the man said in reply.

“How well do you know these parts?” Remus asked.

“I know every tree, every hollow, every stream, every road, every path in these parts,” the man said in a matter-of-fact manner.

“How do you support yourself?”

“I don’t need much. I trap rabbits and such and take them to market in town. Some I sell, some I trade. In town they think that I’m a crazy old hermit; they’re not entirely wrong about that.”

“Any interest in taking over as the new caretaker here at the lodge?” Remus asked.

The man looked at him for a long time.

“You’re serious, ain’t you?”

“I need a caretaker here at the lodge, you know the area.”

“You talkin’ ‘bout a job for money?”

“There’d be some money, yes. You can live in the cottage here, if you’d like, or up at the lodge. I suspect I’m going to have to do some repairs up at the lodge. Eventually I’d like to bring hunting parties here.”

“What would they be hunting?” the man asked suspiciously.

“Not wolves,” Remus said. “There are no wolves in Wales, everyone knows that. What type of game is there here?”

“They used to hunt grouse, pheasants and the like,” the man said. “Sheep and goats can live here, and there’s three or four types of deer. Boar is tasty, but they’re nasty buggers and they’d make a mess with the farms in the area. Would you be needin’ help in the lodge too?”

“Well, I’ve never run a hunting lodge, but I suppose I’ll need a cook and a housekeeper and someone to take care of horses. You think your people could do that?”

“Maybe,” the man said. “Can you let Daisy get dressed so she can get out of here?”

“Are you or any of your people going to try to harm me?”

“Nah, that was just a mistake. I’m rightly sorry about that, Mr. Lupin.”

“What’s your name?”

“Haven’t had much use for one,” the man replied. “Bessie called me ‘husband,’ Daisy calls me ‘Gramps,’ the folks in town call me ‘Trapper.’ Once upon a time I was called Charlie, Charlie Fletcher.”

Remus flicked his wand in Daisy’s direction, vanishing the ropes. Daisy began to raise the dress up over her head.

“Daisy, go outside and do that,” the man barked.

Daisy clutched the dress to her front and backed quickly out of the room.

“’twas cute when she was little, but now that she’s ‘coming a woman…”

The man stopped and listened. “Go back to the den, Daisy,” the commanded. “Mister Lupin and I have to dicker some business.”

“But Gramps,” Daisy whined.

“Don’t ‘but Gramps’ me, Daisy.”

There was a rustle of fabric and then the sound of barefoot stomping through the meadow as Daisy muttered to herself.

Remus flicked his wand in the man’s direction, vanishing his bonds as well. He then put his wand away.

“Where’s her mum?” Remus asked.

“Cotswolds, I think, or maybe Wessex” the man replied. “There’s been wolves, man-wolves, in these parts for two hunnert years. We keep to ourselves and we don’t hurt nobody. Newly turned wolves, their parents abandon them here, like city folks dropping kittens off at a dairy farm, they reckon we’ll take ‘em in.”

“Do you?”

“Mostly,” the man replied. “Some don’t survive their first full moon. Those that make it through two moons, we take ‘em in. Some of ‘em don’t want to live out in the wilds, some just don’t want to live anymore; not much we can do for ‘em.”

“How old was Daisy?”

“Three, four? Little bitty thing. She could walk and talk and knew how to toilet herself. Bessie thought she was four.”

“How old is she now?”

“Fifteen, sixteen? Your guess is as good as mine.”

“What did you want to talk about outside of Daisy’s hearing?”

“Don’t miss much, do you Mister Wizard?”

“That’s how I’ve stayed alive, Mister Fletcher.”

“I’m willing to take your job. I’m gonna have to talk to the others, but all the pairs will probably welcome living in a real house again. The singletons spend more time as wolves than men, so I ‘spect they won’t care much one way or t’other. Bessie’s gone, and I’m getting on in years, so I have to think about Daisy.”

“What does she need?”

“Right now she don’t need nothing, but if I were t’ not wake up tomorrow, she’d need a guardian. In a few years she’ll most likely look for a husband, she’s already boy crazy.”

“Your people can’t do that?”

“She won’t listen to them, she thinks she’s the boss already, seein’ as she’s my child, but it don’t work that way with the wolves.”

“So you think she’d challenge for leadership?”

“I know she’d challenge for leadership, that’s what I’m skeered of, but I suspect she’ll listen to you, given that you’ve already whupped her once.”

“I don’t know anything about raising girls,” Remus objected.

“You think I know anything ‘bout raising girls? I was so mad at Bessie when she passed away sudden, ‘cause it finally dawned on me that I had a little girl who was becoming a woman, and I had no map to git to the finish. I’ll swear fealty to the House of Black if’n you’ll take her on after I’m gone. Don’t make me beg, Mister Lupin.”

Remus was quiet for a long while. “You have the job, if you want it; we’ll discuss just what you’ll swear to. Once you’re a vassal of the House of Black, I will be responsible for Daisy after you’re gone. Is that acceptable?”

Charlie Fletcher smiled and extended a broad, rough hand. “Thank you, Mister Lupin, you won’t regret it.”

“We’ll see about that,” Remus said, feeling yet another responsibility attaching to his life.

+=+

The next day Remus arose, washed, ate, and got dressed again in his “Winston Churchill” costume to meet with the solicitor recommended by Ironsmack. He’d never been to the address listed, which was not too far from Diagon Alley, but also suspiciously close to the mundane Business District. He decided he’d Apparate to a spot he knew in mundane London rather than traveling to Diagon Alley.

The address was a former residence, converted sometime in the 1970’s. There was a discreet brass plate by the door that announced with muted elegance “Michael O’Neill” without any further particulars. The front door opened into a small parlor occupied by an older woman sitting behind a desk.

“Mr. Lupin, I presume?” the woman asked, rising to greet him.

“I am, madam, but I’m afraid that you have the advantage of me,” Remus responded.

“Holly Cadmus,” the woman announced as she walked forward with an extended hand.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Cadmus,” Remus said, shaking the proffered hand.

“Mr. O’Neill said that you were to go right on in; he’s at the office at the top of the stairs,” Holly directed.

“Thank you,” Remus said, moving towards the stairs.

+=+

The door at the top of the stairs was ajar, so Remus pushed it open. The man sitting at the desk smiled at him and nonchalantly waved to the chair next to the desk.

“Good morning, Mr. Lupin, I appreciate your promptness. Manager Ironsmack was most insistent that I speak with you, and after looking into the particulars, I can see why. Our initial consultation today is free; if you decide to retain me, I have a retainer agreement that outlines what I will do for you, along with my compensation. As this is work for the House of Black, you are authorized to pay for my services from House funds, which is a good thing for both of us,” Mr. O’Neill began.

“What did you find in looking into the particulars?” Remus asked.

“Astute question, Mr. Lupin. Your principal, Sirius Black, is currently incarcerated at Azkaban, if my sources are to be believed, in the Maximum Security wing. Every proceeding before the Wizengamot is given a docket number. One wag used to say that if you sent them a Christmas card, they’d give it a docket number, just to be certain. Even classified proceedings get docket numbers, usually indicating who classified the matter, the nature of the classification, et cetera. In the time since the Potters were murdered by the Pretender, there have been no classified docket numbers assigned to hearings before the Wizengamot, and no docket numbers associated with Sirius Black. So, if there is no docket number, and Sirius is in Azkaban, then he is being illegally detained without trial. Even under the emergency decrees, there’s a limit as to how long a Wizard can be detained without a hearing.”

“So, you can get him out?” Remus asked hopefully.

“I didn’t say that,” O’Neill said with a quick smile. “While Habeas Corpus is the law of the land for both Muggles and Wizards, there’s a difference between getting a hearing and getting someone out of Azkaban.”

“But he’s innocent,” Remus objected.

“How do you know that?” O’Neill asked.

Remus took a deep breath, and then related what he knew about James and Lily choosing a secret-keeper, establishing a Fidelius charm to hide their whereabouts, and what he’d discovered with the Longbottoms when inspecting the crime scene.

“Well, I can honestly say that I’m surprised. I hear many people sitting in that chair state with great confidence that their loved one is innocent, but just this one time, you’re probably correct,” O’Neill said.

“That’s a bit of a jaded perspective, isn’t it?” Remus asked.

“I’ve worked with criminals most of my adult life, Mr. Lupin, it tends to impart a rather dour view of human nature. Let me think for a moment,” O’Neill said, bowing his head while drumming on the desktop with his fingertips.

“Do you have any papers confirming Sirius as Harry Potter’s godfather?”

“No,” Remus replied.

“Copy of the Potter will, or any will written by Sirius Black?”

“I haven’t found either yet.”

“Have you been to either the Black vault or Sirius’s vault at Gringotts?”

“I’m sorry to say, no I have not,” Remus admitted.

“You need to go there immediately,” O’Neill said. “I don’t care if you retain me or not. If Dumbledore was brazen enough to seal the Potter wills, what makes you think that he won’t try to seal the vaults?”

“I’d never thought of that,” Remus said.

“That’s because you’re a basically honest human being,” O’Neill said with a broad smile. “You need to learn to think like a vicious schemer; in your case I think it might be a bit of a stretch.”

“That’s why I have you, and Manager Ironsmack,” Remus said.

“I think between the two of us we have viciousness and scheming covered for you, Mr. Lupin,” O’Neill said.

+=+

Remus slid the papers O’Neill provided into a slim leather portfolio and then shrank that into something that could go into his pocket. He then took a brisk walk to Diagon Alley, choosing one of the lesser known entrances, as he had a bad feeling about going through the Leaky Cauldron this morning.

His walk into Gringotts was unexceptional, asking to visit vault 711. An extremely short goblin waddled to the vault cart and indicated that Remus should step in. No sooner had he managed to get one foot into the car, the cart took off with a snap, plummeting into the depths of Gringotts. The goblin turned, nodding in approval that Remus had managed to stay with the cart and then turned forward again. The cart’s speed dwindled and the goblin turned off onto a siding that was a dead end. Remus looked behind him and when he’d turned back, his goblin cart driver was gone.

The siding was dimly lit, but nothing appeared to be threatening. Remus closed his eyes, listening intently and inhaled deeply. The tunnels smelled rock and steel and oil, the scent of goblins, a few notes of human presence, days old at this time, and then a faint whiff reminiscent of church incense. He heard footsteps. Listening carefully, he noted that the footsteps were approaching.

“Good morning, Manager Ironsmack,” Remus called.

“A good morning to you, Steward,” the goblin called, becoming visible as he turned the corner leading to the siding. “Please excuse the drama of our meeting, but it is necessary for my management chain to be able to report that we have not seen each other this morning.”

“Of course,” Remus said, wondering what was causing this subterfuge.

“The Wizengamot has asked that we seal a particular vault,” Ironsmack said in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Really?”

“The original request was misfiled, most unfortunate really. When the Ministry inquired about the vault, one of my subordinates asked that the request be re-sent, only to then disapprove the request after it had been repeated, as it failed to cite the salient facts required by the particular section of the treaty governing Wizarding Bank operations. This reply was sent to the Ministry late on a Friday; I’m sure you can predict what happened next.”

“While all this is fascinating, I’m struggling to grasp why this concerns the Manager of the Black account,” Remus said drolly.

“It concerns me for many reasons, but we need not discuss that here, at this time. I have with me a request to transfer the contents of Vault 711 to the main Black Vault, minus a small box containing devices known as ‘dung bombs’ which will remain in Vault 711. If you would be so kind as to affix your seal on the form, I can be about my business,” Ironsmack said, proffering the form to Remus.

Remus inspected the form, which stated that all contents, other than box 42, were to be transferred.

“I’m assuming that ‘box 42’ contains the dung bombs?” Remus asked.

“That is correct.”

“I notice that the form is not dated,” Remus said as he sealed the form and returned it to Ironsmack.

“Really?” Ironsmack said, pulling his glasses from a waistcoat pocket to inspect the form. He made a show of looking carefully at the form and then waved his hand above the form and then looked at it again. “I believe you are mistaken, Mister Lupin, it clearly states here that you made the request the day that you took your oath as Steward, almost two weeks ago.”

“Of course,” Remus said, smiling at Ironsmack, who nodded in reply.

“I have business to attend to at the moment, but I suggest that we schedule a meeting next week to discuss what you might need in the way of maintenance on the various Black properties. Have you visited the hunting lodge?”

“Yes, I was there yesterday, and I believe I’ve found a new manager for the property,” Remus reported.

“Excellent,” Ironsmack said, nodding again at him before turning and walking back into the tunnels. “Quenchcrack will be with you shortly.”

With a few more steps, Ironsmack receded into the darkness of the tunnels and Remus felt a movement of air next to him.

“Well, Quenchcrack,” Remus said. “Shall we continue?”

+=+

The Black vault appeared to be just another family vault. There were glossy black statues on either side of the door, Nubian Sphinxes if Remus remembered his art history. As he approached the door the statue on the right side turned her head and gazed at him.

“You’re not a Black,” she said in a deep voice with an uncertain accent.

“I’m Steward of the House of Black,” Remus said, brandishing his ring.

The Sphinx sniffed. “So you are,” she said before settling back down in a manner very reminiscent of a cat settling down for a nap. “Press the ring to the door.”

The statute was now again a statue, no hint of animation or intellect, just gracefully hewn onyx.

“I’ll be back when you’re done,” Quenchcrack said from behind him.

“How will you know when I’m done?” Remus asked.

“Oh, I’ll know,” Quenchcrack said before fading into the darkness.

Taking a centering breath, Remus pressed his ring to the door, feeling a buzz of magic in his hand as he did so. The door opened soundlessly, leading into a well-lit hallway. On the wall, between two sconces, was a portrait of a man dressed in garb that might have been in style during the Renaissance. The man in the picture gazed at Remus and then nodded.

“I am Alban Black,” he stated.

“I’m not familiar with where you are on the Black Family tree,” Remus said.

“Phineas Nigellas Black was my great-grandson,” Alban replied.

“I am Remus Lupin, newly appointed Steward of the House of Black. I was appointed by the late Arcturus Black.”

“Oh, really? Is there going to be a problem with you being confirmed by the next Head of House Black?”

“That remains to be seen,” Remus replied.

“You can be assured that our conversation is privileged, and I lack any other portraits,” Alban said.

“The new Head of House is Sirius Black, who asked that I serve as Steward when he was the Heir. He’s locked up in Azkaban right now, imprisoned without trial,” Remus said.

Alban gave him an incredulous stare.

“So, you can see, I’ve got a lot of work to do as Steward,” Remus said.

“Three doors down, you’ll find the ledgers – only take the last two, the ones before that won’t be current enough to be of help. If Gringotts is operating at their usual efficiency, then you should already be drawing a stipend, which will be reflected in the ledgers,” Alban said. “Does the family have men-at-arms?”

“I’m afraid that the family is much smaller than it was when you were Black of Black,” Remus said. “I’m also not planning on storming Azkaban castle, although if I do, I’m sure I’ll come back and consult with you. You have stormed castles before?”

“A few,” Alban said with a grin. “I always preferred being let in through the front door, storming was so messy. The goblins brought in some boxes this week – at least I think it was this week. You’ll find them in the room beyond where the ledgers are kept. Well, I won’t keep you any further, but when you have time, I’d love for you to come by and chat. It seems that I’m fairly behind on the times.”

Remus nodded to the portrait and then moved down the hall, finding the counting room where the last two ledgers were waiting for him, and then went into the next room, finding a dozen or so medium and small size boxes, labeled in a clear hand. Figuring that he could inspect these at leisure, he found the box marked “personal papers” which he placed on a table and began to flip through the contents. There were letters, including intimate letters from a name Remus recognized as being a female classmate which Remus found odd, as he never knew Sirius to be interested in her. He found a record of inoculations, a muggle passport, a muggle driver’s license, Ministry of Magic Apparation license, a ward-crafting license, and finally, at the back of the box, a signed baptismal certificate for Harry James Potter, listing James and Lily as the parents and Sirius Black and Alice Longbottom as godparents. He slipped this most precious document into his portfolio and then made his way out of the vault. As soon as he’d closed the front door he heard the sound of a cart approaching. He scratched both Sphinxes behind the ears, murmuring his thanks for their protection, and then carefully stepped into the cart.

“I think I’m done, Quenchcrack,” Remus said.

With a nod, Quenchcrack pulled the control lever and the cart rumbled down the tracks.

+=+

Remus returned home to his terrace, walking from the end where his flat was located to the other end unit, where Sirius had lived. Contrary to the expectations of many, the home was tidy. Sirius had spent enough years living with only what he could carry on his back, so he kept furnishings and possessions to a minimum. Remus had emptied the perishables from the refrigerator in Sirius’s kitchen after learning of his arrest, but he’d otherwise left the place alone.

Now he went into Sirius’s bedroom. The only extravagance in the room was the extremely large bed, which Remus knew to be well used, as Sirius had never had any problem bringing women home. He remembered a conversation he’d had with Sirius in one of those middle-of-the-night conversations when the most inane topics seem like the wisdom of the ages. The topic that night had been, “Where would you hide something?”

Sirius had maintained that everyone’s first thought was to hide things in drawers or under beds, so those places should never be used as hiding places. Remus remembered objecting to this premise, but Sirius had quickly overcome his argument.

“People never look up,” Sirius had said. “People think of a hidden safe or hidey hole in the floor under a rug, or in a wall behind a portrait of the Queen, but no one thinks to look in the ceiling .”

Remus washed the ceiling with a low level of magic and then whispered “ Aparecium .” A fine red line appeared around the base of the light fixture in the ceiling. Remus took off his shoes, stood on the bed, and carefully unscrewed the base of the light fixture, which dropped the base about a foot, revealing a plain metal cylinder. Remus moved the cylinder to the night stand and after painting it with another wash of low level magic, whispered “I solemnly swear that I’m up to no good.” The cylinder split in half. Inside was another muggle passport (which bore Sirius’s picture, but another name entirely) a dozen credit cards with the names of six different individuals, a large roll of bank notes and three envelopes. The first envelope was marked in Lily’s elegant handwriting, declaring “Last Will and Testament – James and Lily Potter.” The second was marked in Sirius’s scrawl “Last Will and Testament – Sirius Black” and the last envelope, also written in Sirius hand simply said “Remus.”

He slipped the bank notes into his pocket, the first two envelopes into his portfolio, and then sat on the bed to open the last envelope.

Remus,

If you’re reading this I’m probably dead, or in the alternative, on the lam somewhere abroad.

After the first run-in James and Lily had with the Pretender, it finally struck me that we aren’t supermen who will live forever, and I began updating this letter because no matter how bad things get, I know that you’ll survive, and if you survive, you’ll try to take care of your friends.

This cache also contains my will, and the Potters’ will. Make sure that if anything happens to me that the wills get filed with Gringotts. While the Potter’s will is not surprise, you might find my will a little strange. You’re a fine wizard with a furry little problem once-a-month who happens to have no money. Me, I’m a lazy wizard who inherited too much from a family that did no-one any good. As you’ve already proven, you know how to make money; you just needed a stake to get started. As such, in my will, you’ll get title to the row-house in fee simple; it should be a fine stake. Whatever happens, it will provide a bit of cash flow, and is an asset that can be liquidated if you need more capital. See, I was paying attention when you were giving me those late-night lectures on finance.

I sincerely hope that you can get your head out of your arse and realize that you are not your disability – you’re a true friend who can do a lot of good in the world. The surprise in my will is that I’ve made Harry my heir. You might not know it, but he’s actually a son of the House of Black already, Dorea Potter having been Dorea Black before she married into the Potter family. As I don’t have any natural heirs, I’m taking the precaution of making Harry my heir, to insure that the Black family doesn’t fall to either the Malfoys or the Lestranges – bad people don’t need more capital, and they certainly don’t need to command what little respect the Black family name still holds.

Have fun, make some money, do good, and for goodness sakes, get a woman and get married. Your furry-little-problem may or may not interfere with fatherhood, but I’m sure you can figure out how to pick up a sprog or two if you can’t hatch one the normal way.

I love you, Moony, you’ve been a far better friend than I ever deserved.

Padfoot.

Remus blinked the unwanted tear from his eye, promising himself that he’d figure out some way to tease Sirius about this after springing him from Azkaban.

=+=

Remus went back to the solicitor’s office long enough to sign the retainer agreement, and then went to Gringotts, leaving the wills with Ironsmack. He next returned to his flat and started in on the chores that had been neglected in the past few days, making a shopping list to resupply his kitchen, and starting the first of several loads of laundry.

At their last meeting Alice had left a telephone number, which had surprised him a bit. In response to his surprise she’d said, “Oh, we haven’t gone that Muggle yet, Remus, it’s just an answering service.”

Remus dialed the number, wondering who would answer.

“Answering service,” a perky voice said.

“I’d like to leave a message for Mrs. Longbottom,” Remus said hopefully.

“Would you like to speak to her in person? She’s here picking up her messages,” the cheery voice said.

“Sure, that would be great,” Remus said.

“Hello,” Alice said.

“Good afternoon, Alice, I have an ecclesiastical document you’re looking for, along with another matter,” Remus said, not sure how much to say on the phone.

“Right,” Alice said, a note of confusion in her voice. “Oh, that’s great. May I drop by after work to talk about it?”

“Yes, that would be great,” Remus replied.

+=+

Remus had tea and biscuits ready, figuring that the usual Auror shift change took place at 6:00 PM. At 6:05 PM there was a knock at his door. He checked the small foe glass and then the window portal before opening the door.

“Hello Frank, Alice, thanks for dropping by,” Remus said.

“News on Harry?” Frank asked.

“Of a sort,” Remus replied, taking the envelope with the baptismal certificate from his pocket.

Frank opened the letter, quickly scanning the document.

“Where’d you find it?” he asked.

“Main Black vault,” Remus said. “Sirius’s vault was sealed, but this was moved to the main vault before the order took place.”

“How interesting,” Frank said with a raised eyebrow.

“I’m still tracking Harry’s whereabouts. I’ve been working three jobs of late with the Steward business, so my time is a bit scarce right now –something I’m sure you can appreciate.”

“Tell me about it,” Frank said. “I’m getting pulled onto Bagnold’s protection detail; one of the regulars is on the disabled list.”

“Well, if Bagnold’s on the way out that shouldn’t be too arduous,” Remus said hopefully.

“We’ll see,” Frank said doubtfully.

“Was this all you had, Remus?” Alice asked. “You mentioned ‘another matter.’”

Remus poured tea and made a gesture to the places at his kitchen table.

“A bit of a story behind that one. One of the properties of the Black holdings is a hunting lodge in Wales. It has been run by a tenant for some time, but the tenant died suddenly, of natural causes, I might add, most refreshing in these wretched times. I had to see if the lodge was still standing. Long story short, there’s a werewolf pack in the area, and I’ve hired the chieftain of the pack to take care of the property; he’ll become caretaker, master of the lodge, you know, all that Major Domo stuff,” Remus said.

“How does that involve us?” Franklin asked.

“The chieftain has an adopted granddaughter. For reasons of pack politics, he wants me to become her guardian,” Remus said.

“How old is she?” Alice asked.

“Pubescent?” Remus offered. “She’s not quite sure how old she is. I suspect she was turned when she was quite young and her parents abandoned her, setting her loose in the area where this pack was known to range.”

“How awful,” Alice said.

“Quite,” Remus agreed. “The chieftain had a wife at the time and they took her in, but the phrase ‘raised by wolves’ has some application in this instance.”

“Had a wife?” Alice asked.

“Another death by natural cause, she was old,” Remus explained.

“How old is grandfather?” Franklin asked.

“Something older than 120 years,” Remus said.

“That’s amazing, I didn’t know wolves lived that long,” Franklin said.

“Most of us don’t,” Remus said. “The girl is named Daisy and has but one dress to her name. I was wondering if you could take her shopping, at my expense.”

“Does she need a Muggle or Magical wardrobe?” Alice asked.

“She’ll need both,” Remus said. “More of the Muggle, but she’ll need to be able to fit in when visiting our world as well.”

“I suppose I could do that,” Alice said, looking at Frank.

Frank nodded.

“I could ask Julia to accompany you, she’s quite current on Muggle fashion for teens,” Remus said.

“That’s starting to sound like fun,” Alice said.

“Again, at my expense,” Remus said.

“Like real fun,” Alice said with a broad smile.

“Thank you, you have no idea how I dreaded the notion of taking a young teen girl shopping for everything,” Remus said.

“Oh, Remus, it’s not that bad,” Alice said.

“I still feel like a pervert when I walk by the women’s lingerie section in a store,” Remus said. “I have no significant other to shop for, so I’m not as desensitized as others.” He made a gesture to Frank.

“Who’s Julia?” Frank asked.

“She’s one of my students,” Remus said.

“Another wolf?”

“No, just a frighteningly smart home schooled witch living on the Isle of Man who will probably start university as soon as she tests for her OWLs. The University of Wales is chomping at the bit to get her as a student, but she’s holding out for St Andrews,” Remus explained.

“She was the desk clerk at the hotel at Port Erin,” Alice added.

“Oh, the cheeky one,” Frank said.

They settled on a time and location to meet, Remus being responsible for bringing Daisy to the location, while Alice would pick up Julia.

+=+

Remus met once with Charlie Fletcher, receiving his oath to House Black, and then met separately with the adults of the pack. As predicted by Charlie, the pairs all left their caves, lairs and shanties to move into the caretaker cottage (a middle-aged couple named Anthony and Maud) or the main lodge. After some discussion they’d agreed to take on various roles based on their skills and inclinations and began the process of tidying up the lodge. Although all of them were magical, none of them had a wand or any practice with wanded magic, leading Remus to plan a program of instruction to allow them to all pass at least one OWL exam so as to be able to lawfully own a wand without an educational license. By mutual agreement, they held themselves to be vassals of the House of Black, Charlie having already sworn fealty to the house. Remus realized the slipperiness of this position, knowing that the next chieftain of the pack would need to address that status at some time in the future, but reckoned that the situation did not need further tinkering just then.

The only bump in the discussions came when Charlie announced that Remus was going to become Daisy’s guardian. One faction of the pack was worried that Daisy would be taken away to the city (Remus assuring them that she was going to remain at the lodge) another glad that provision was being made, and a small faction (namely Anthony and Maud) who were suspicious that Remus was a pimp and harbored malevolent intentions towards Daisy in particular and all of the women of the pack in general. Charlie cut that argument short, declaring, “I ain’t stupid enough to give my oath to a whoremonger,” which seemed to settle the matter for everyone but Maud, who agreed to not press the issue further.

+=+

It was Friday when Remus finally got time to look into what he called ‘the Harry problem’ settling into the library to find the business address for Vernon Dursley’s employer. He’d remembered most of Lily’s rant about Petunia’s husband, but he’d not quite remembered the name of the company, but he had remembered that the company manufactured drill bits.

Once he had the proper company name, he made several discreet inquiries, resulting in spotting Vernon Dursley as he left the cluster of buildings occupied by Gunnings that evening. Using not a speck of magic, Remus tracked Vernon from the factory to a rather bland pub, and then to an even more bland estate of nearly identical homes in Little Whinging, taking careful note of the address of the home, Number Four Privet Drive. Carefully driving the rental car back to the agency, Remus returned home, leaving a message with the answering service for Frank and Alice.

Saturday was the date for Daisy’s shopping expedition, which meant that Remus Apparated to the lodge in Wales and then took Daisy to the outskirts of Swansea where they met up with Frank, Alice and Julia. After a round of introductions, Alice, Julia and Daisy started the shopping expedition, while Frank and Remus went to Little Whinging for a bit of reconnaissance.

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Author Notes:

As always, thanks to Garden Girl, who may go to the vet, but has not gone to the dogs.  

This chapter stops at an awkward point, but to carry out everything in the immediate story arc, it would take quite a few more thousand words, and might not get posted this month, so I decided to stop it here.

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