Chapter 1: Number Twelve Grimmauld Place
The flat was on a busy street in Bloomsbury, where people from all walks of life could be found hurrying by at all hours of the day and night. Even now, well past midnight on a Saturday night, the street was teeming with people. It was also the sort of place where nothing was out of the ordinary and strangers turned a blind eye to one another. In short, it was the perfect place for a wizard to live.
The flat itself was clean and tidy, simply furnished and decorated in an unmistakably masculine style. The few personal items on display consisted of some books and a handful of photos which were arranged neatly on a bookshelf. The only thing that appeared out of place was the body lying on the living room floor.
Alastor Moody looked down at the now late resident of the flat - a young man, perhaps 30, dressed in well-made, but uninspired robes. He was slender, clean-shaven and had short, brown hair just beginning to thin on top. There was no fear in the vacant eyes – no emotion at all, in fact. The dead man's only remarkable feature was the Dark Mark branded on his left forearm.
"Suicide," the Auror standing next to Moody stated flatly. "Turned his wand on himself and cast Avada Kedavra."
"Any idea why?" Moody asked as he knelt down to examine the body. "Death Eaters aren't known for committing suicide."
The Auror, a middle-aged woman with close-cropped graying hair shrugged. "Maybe he developed a conscience."
Moody snorted, not bothering to state his opinion on the likelihood of that. Instead, he scanned the room. His magic eye swiveled to take in every inch of the scene, but it was his good eye that spotted the single, long strand of black hair lying on the carpet near the deceased. He picked it up and frowned.
His colleague looked on with a small, indulgent smile. "Don't tell me. You suspect foul play."
"I don't suspect any such thing. I'm certain of it."
"Certain?" the woman's voice held a note of exasperation. "Based on what - a single hair? We've identified the man's wand as the one that killed him and there's absolutely no evidence of any sort of fight."
"There wouldn't have been a fight if the killer was lying in wait and stunned him. Using a victim's own wand to kill him is one of the oldest tricks in the book. You know that."
"It's also impossible to prove without a witness. We've already checked. No one saw anything. Murdock was last seen alive leaving his office Friday afternoon. He was due at his family's estate for dinner earlier tonight for an uncle's birthday celebration or some such. He didn't show up, so his cousin popped round afterward to look for him. Got quite a nasty shock."
Moody gestured at the man on the floor. "Did he have any known enemies?"
"None that we know of. But he was obviously a Death Eater which isn't the most popular line of work."
"Nor the safest these days," Moody remarked. "Another turned up dead just a few days ago, didn't he?"
"That was in Knockturn Alley," the woman said a little sharply. "An illegal deal gone sour, by the look of it."
"By the look of it," Moody murmured, heaving himself to his feet. He stood scowling in thought and the other Auror's face softened sympathetically.
"Moody, even if you're right and this wasn't suicide, you have no proof and we've got too much on our plates as it is. We're in the middle of a war. We have enough live Death Eaters to be concerned about without worrying over dead ones. Frankly, if one of his friends helped him along then they did us a favor and are probably guilty of worse crimes anyway."
Moody turned to his colleague with a sour smile. "Off hand, I'd guess it wasn't one of his friends who did him in, but one of his enemies."
"Yes, of course, but that's not the point."
"Actually, that's the whole point," Moody said, slowly. He turned away, leaving the bemused woman shaking her head as he left the flat and joined the late-night wanderers on the street.
Number 12 Grimmauld Place didn't look too bad. That had been Harry's first thought when he arrived at the former Black family residence, clandestine headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix and his new summer home away from Hogwarts. From the highly polished banister of the main staircase to the glistening chandelier in the dining room, the house was spotless and felt almost welcoming. Harry could imagine its former grandeur, dark though it had been. Now, as he opened his eyes to pale sunlight streaming through the windows of his bedroom on the first morning after his arrival, he found the reason for the house's transformation peering at him with large, expectant eyes.
"Harry Potter is awake!" Dobby exclaimed happily.
Harry raised his head and regarded the house-elf with far less enthusiasm. "Dobby, what are you doing in my bedroom?"
"Dobby has come to see what master Harry Potter would like for breakfast, sir."
"First off, I'm not your master. Second, I can get my own breakfast. Now if you don't mind, I'd just like to sleep in a bit." Harry flopped back onto his pillow and shut his eyes, then opened them again and sighed. Dobby hadn't moved.
"Dobby, that means go away," Harry snapped and instantly regretted it. Dobby's hopeful smile faltered and disappointment shone in his eyes.
"I mean, it's very thoughtful of you to want to make me breakfast and I appreciate it," Harry said as kindly as he could while still sounding stern. "But I'd really like to sleep a bit longer. Okay?"
"Very well, sir," Dobby said, his spirits somewhat restored. "Dobby will wait to make breakfast until Harry Potter is ready."
Harry forced a smile. "Great."
Dobby flashed Harry a happy smile and vanished. Harry sighed in relief, pulled the covers up around his ears and closed his eyes.
"MUGGLE-LOVING BLOOD TRAITORS!"
Harry jumped at the shout that had come from somewhere outside his room and sprang up in bed, his heart pounding wildly.
"SONS OF BLOOD-TRAITORS! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!"
Harry groaned and flopped back on his pillow once more as he realized that the screams were coming from Mrs. Black's portrait, one of the few remnants of the house's dark past that no one had been able to get rid of and which still hung in the entrance hall downstairs. Harry pulled the covers over his head and squeezed his eyes shut
Harry grabbed his pillow and shoved it over his head.
With a snarl of frustration, Harry tossed his pillow aside, threw back his covers and got up. He crossed the room in two strides, threw open his door and stalked out into the first-floor hallway where the shouting seemed to echo throughout the house.
"BLIGHT UPON OUR WORLD!"
Harry grimaced, leaned over the banister and scowled down at the entrance hall below.
Fred and George Weasley were just finishing hanging up their cloaks in a leisurely fashion while the portrait of Mrs. Black railed at them. Mrs. Black's shrieks were grating at any time, but first thing in the morning they were nearly unbearable. However, Fred and George didn't seem at all put out and in fact, seemed to hardly notice.
"I say, do you hear something, George?" Fred asked, glancing around the hall as if trying to place the source of some far-off sound, even though he had to practically shout to be heard over Mrs. Black.
"Don't mock me, you traitors!" Mrs. Black snarled.
"Oh, Mrs. Black! Good morning to you too." George grinned cheekily and bowed gallantly to the enraged portrait.
"So good to see you in your usual charming mood," Fred added, grinning and bowing as well.
"Ahhhhhh! Vermin! Out! Out! OUT!"
"You know, you really ought to do something about your nerves."
"I don't suppose a portrait can take a tonic, though," Fred said.
"Well, there is that. Pity."
"Are you two completely mental?" Harry had come down to the entrance hall, but still had to yell to be heard as Mrs. Black continued her stream of abuse.
"Oh hi, Harry," Fred yelled back, cheerily. "Did we wake you?"
"Fred! George!" Remus snapped in exasperation as he came downstairs as well. "Must you provoke her? We had her under control until you two got it into your heads to start encouraging her."
"Flea-bitten mongrel!" Mrs. Black snarled at Remus who glared at the portrait then back at Fred and George.
"We'll calm her down. Honestly!" Fred assured Remus.
"Not to worry, sir, Dobby will handle it." Dobby had appeared in the entrance hall and turned to face the portrait.
Harry watched uneasily, not at all certain that the house-elf was going to improve the situation. Dobby frowned at the portrait, planted two knobby fists on his hips and drew himself up to his full height. Unfortunately, this still left him well below Mrs. Black's waist and beneath her notice. In an effort to get her attention, Dobby shook a bony finger at her.
"You will stop this rudeness, now!"
Mrs. Black stopped screaming at Fred and George and looked disdainfully down her nose at the house-elf. "How dare you!" she said in her most affronted tone. "I'd have had your head for such insolence. These traitors defile my house and let servants behave –"
How they allowed servants to behave Harry never found out, for at that moment Dobby snapped his fingers and Mrs. Black stopped screaming; or rather her lips were still moving but no sound was coming out. It took her a moment to realize this, then her face purpled with indignant rage. Dobby smiled in satisfaction and closed the curtain over the still silently-shouting portrait.
"Brilliant, Dobby!" Fred said, sounding genuinely impressed. "Our silencing charms never work."
"We do always manage to find some way to calm her down, though," George said with a sheepish grin at Remus.
"Always?" Harry whispered to Remus, wondering just how often this sort of thing occurred.
"Fortunately, they're not around much," Remus replied quietly with a wry smile.
"Is breakfast ready, Dobby?" Fred asked.
"We're famished," George added.
Dobby looked at Harry who quickly said, "Yeah Dobby, let's eat." Harry certainly didn't want anyone else going hungry on his account.
"So, how are things, mate?" Fred asked as he and George attacked a platter of sausages and eggs.
"Better now that Mrs. Black has shut it," Harry said, sitting down at the kitchen table and shoveling baked beans onto his own plate.
"Sorry about that," George said. "She's taken it into her head to dislike us for some reason."
"Possibly because you go out of your way to goad her," Remus said, taking a seat as well. A pot of tea immediately appeared next to his plate..
"Remus, it's just too easy," George said with a shrug.
"We can't resist," Fred agreed.
A bowl of fresh fruit and clotted cream floated to the table and George deftly snatched it out of midair.
"You're in luck, Harry," he said. "We used to have to fend for ourselves at meals. Now that Dobby's here, we're eating like kings."
"Don't get too used to having Dobby around," Remus warned. "Dumbledore only sent him here to get Professor Snape's rooms in order."
"Snape," Fred snorted then turned back to Harry. "Aside from Remus's bedroom and study, he's got the whole bloody second floor reserved for him: bedroom, office, store room, laboratory. You'd think he was moving in permanently instead of just for the summer."
"Dobby's been racing around for a couple of weeks trying to get everything in order," George continued. "But the good news is he's managed to clean up most of the rest of the house as well. The first and second floors are entirely inhabitable now and there are only a couple of rooms on the ground floor that will still try to kill you. He hasn't done anything with the third floor or attic, but no one's up there except Buckbeak."
"Is anyone else staying here?" Harry asked.
"Just us. Our room's at the end of the hall from yours," George said. "But lately we've been staying at the shop working on some new items, so you'll have the common room to yourself."
"They mean the drawing room at the head of the stairs on the first floor," Remus said. "These two have dubbed it the Gryffindor common room."
Harry grinned. "That's brilliant! I can't wait for Ron, Ginny and Hermione to get here. They'll love it."
Fred and George exchanged glances and Fred cleared his throat. "Er, about that."
"There's been a bit of a change in plans," George said.
"You see, Dad was talking with Charlie last week."
"And it came up that it would be a great opportunity if Ron and Ginny could learn about dragons."
"What?" Harry exclaimed.
"Not to worry, Harry," Fred insisted. "They'll only be gone a month."
"They're going to Romania for a month? And no one bothered to mention this at the train station yesterday?"
"I think Dad wanted to tell them first," George said.
"If it's any consolation, they didn't look all that happy about it when we stopped by the house this morning," Fred reassured Harry. "Of course, that just might have been because Dad had them up at the crack of dawn getting ready to leave."
"They're leaving today? What about Hermione? She was supposed to be staying at the Burrow before coming here."
Fred and George exchanged another glance which confirmed Harry's worst suspicions. "She's going with them, isn't she?"
George shrugged apologetically. "Dad already arranged it with the Grangers."
"Ron, Ginny and Hermione asked us to give you this," Fred added, handing an envelope to Harry. "They reckoned it'd be a lot faster than sending it with Errol."
Harry took the envelope and opened it. There were three sheets of parchment inside which turned out to be three letters. Harry read each in turn.
I reckon Fred and George told you the news. It was rotten of Dad to make plans without asking us. I don't know what he was thinking! We wouldn't be going if we could get out of it, but Charlie and his mates are expecting us and Hermione says it'd be rude not to show up.
It'll be good to see Charlie, though, and I suppose the dragons will be interesting. It'll be cool to watch Charlie work with them and he said that I might be able to help him feed them – though I'm not really sure what they eat. It could wind up being miserable and really boring though.
It's rubbish that you can't come! It'd be brilliant if you were there and Charlie said you're welcome anytime. Maybe when this bloody war is over we can go and do it properly.
Anyway, I'll make sure to bring you back something really cool like a dragon tooth.
Fred's breathing down my neck, so I'd better give this to him. Don't let Snape make you study too much.
I know you must be awfully disappointed, but to be honest, I'm not sure our plans to spend time in London would have worked out even if we were there. I was listening to Mr. Weasley and some of the other Order members talking last night and I don't think Professor Snape is coming there just to teach you Potions. I rather think it's more to do with watching you.
Don't scowl. I know you hate that, but given what you told us after the attack on Hogsmeade, I think they're probably right to be extra cautious.
Please just do whatever Professor Snape and Remus tell you to do. And don't do anything reckless. We'll see you as soon as we can.
P.S. – Don't forget to do your homework.
Do you reckon Dad knows you've been snogging me and arranged this just to keep us apart?
Don't be cross with Dad. He doesn't say it, but I know he's worried about us and I think he just wants us as far away from Voldemort as possible. I wish you could have come too. Dad asked if you could, but Dumbledore wants you to stay where you are. I suppose he thinks it's the safest place for you.
I promise that I'll write to you every day and let you know if Ron's managed to get himself killed. He's got some mad idea about helping Charlie feed the dragons, though from the look on Hermione's face when he said it, I don't think she's going to let him.
Dad's calling us, so I'd better go. I'll see you in a month and I promise that we'll make up for lost time. I'll miss you.
Harry folded the letters and stuffed them back into the envelope.
"We're sorry, Harry," George said. "We know being stuck here alone wasn't what you had in mind. Dad wanted you to come too, but…"
"But I'm Harry Potter." Harry could hear the bitterness in his voice and forced a smile. "It's okay. It's only a month. Besides, I've got more than enough homework to keep me busy." Harry looked down at his half-finished breakfast which he no longer felt like eating. "In fact, I probably ought to get cracking."
Harry left the kitchen and went back up to his room where he sat down on his bed to sulk. He and his friends had planned to spend the entire summer holidays together at Grimmauld Place. It was their last summer as students and they had hoped to spend time in Muggle London and forget the war for a while. So far things were not turning out as planned.
Not that Harry could really blame Mr. Weasley for wanting to send his two youngest children as far away as possible from the scourge of terror Voldemort had unleashed across Britain, nor could he blame Hermione for going with them. Mrs. Weasley had been killed by Voldemort only a few months previously which had brought the war home to all of them. He only wished that Dumbledore had let him go too.
"So, you're back," a smug and faintly bored voice said.
Harry started and looked around then spotted the portrait of Phineas Nigellus smirking at him from atop the wardrobe. "What are you doing here?"
The wizard in the picture shrugged. "They moved me. I suppose they thought you needed watching."
"I don't need watching," Harry said indignantly, remembering Hermione's comment as well. Phineas only smirked more and sauntered out of the picture frame.
Harry scowled, went over to the wardrobe and laid the picture face down so that Hogwarts' former and least favorite headmaster couldn't spy on him. That was the last thing he needed. He sat back down on the edge of his bed and considered. He really did have a lot of homework to do, but he had no interest in doing it. Still, he supposed that he ought to at least get started on his Potions work. Snape would not be happy if he wasn't prepared for his first lesson and Harry didn't need any scathing remarks from his teacher to make his life more miserable than it already was.
He opened his trunk and pulled out his Potions text with Snape's lengthy syllabus shoved in the middle of it. Harry grimaced and tossed the book aside then began rummaging for his Potions supplies. Everything in Harry's trunk had shifted during the trip from Hogwarts, forcing Harry to dig through clothes and past a forgotten bag of Honeydukes sweets and other personal effects. He reached deep down and swept the bottom of his trunk looking for his mortar and pestle and almost immediately drew back his hand with a sharp hiss. He had cut his hand on something and it was bleeding freely.
Wrapping his handkerchief around the wound, Harry shifted the contents of his trunk more carefully until he spotted the offending item. A broken mirror lay at the bottom of the trunk and Harry felt his throat tighten at the sight of it. It was the mirror Sirius had given him so they could communicate and which Harry had forgotten about until it was too late.
Harry pulled his wand out of his pocket and pointed it at the mirror. "Reparo!" he said. All of the pieces dutifully reassembled themselves. Harry picked up the mirror and stared into it, but all he saw was his own reflection staring back.
"I'm sorry, Sirius," he murmured. At his words, the surface of the mirror seemed to shimmer and darken. Harry leaned closer and peered at it intently. "Sirius? Sirius!"
But the mirror appeared perfectly normal once more and showed only Harry's own anxious features. Harry sighed irritably at his own foolishness; obviously he'd only imagined the change. Resisting the urge to smash it once more, Harry laid the mirror atop the wardrobe next to Phineas's portrait and tried to put it out of his mind as he retrieved the rest of his Potions supplies. Then, because he had nothing else to do, he pulled Snape's syllabus from his Potions text and started his homework.
Dobby appeared to announce lunch precisely at noon. Harry didn't demur this time; he was more than ready to take a break and gratefully headed downstairs. He slowed, however, as he reached the entrance hall. Mad-Eye Moody was standing in the doorway to the library talking with Remus. Both men looked grim.
"Keep an eye on him," Moody said, darkly. "With these deaths, I don't want him sneaking –"
"Harry!" Remus interrupted Moody with a forced smile. "I haven't seen you since breakfast."
"I've been doing homework," Harry said as he approached the men.
"Good to see you made it, Potter," Moody said, clapping Harry on the shoulder as though he had completed some perilous journey rather than having simply arrived from Hogwarts the day before. "Lupin, we'll talk later."
With a final nod to both Harry and Remus, the old Auror left and Harry turned to Remus. "What's up?"
"Order business, Harry. Nothing you need to worry about."
Remus smiled and shrugged nonchalantly, but Harry noticed that his father's old friend wasn't looking him in the eyes. He didn't press Remus though. He already suspected that the two men had been talking about him: it didn't really surprise him, but it was frustrating. Why was everyone suddenly so worried about him? And why was Moody here warning Remus to keep an eye on him?
Harry shrugged mentally as he and Remus went down to lunch. It was probably just Moody being extra cautious as usual, but one thing kept Harry from dismissing the incident entirely. Moody had mentioned that there had been deaths - recent ones from the sound of it - yet Harry couldn't recall hearing about any deaths that might be connected to him. There had actually been a lull in Death Eater activity in the last couple of weeks.
A warning bell sounded in the back of Harry's mind. His friends had been sent away, Snape was coming to keep an eye on him and now Moody had warned Remus to do the same. Worst of all, Harry knew that they were all hiding something from him. Harry's heart sank. He had the feeling that this was not going to be a good summer at all.