Sunlight was streaming through the windows as Buckbeak let out a sound that seemed to be a delighted sigh; he was wide awake and feasting on his morning breakfast courtesy of Sirius who sat nearby on the table, watching the Hippogriff. Whatever hopes he had had the previous night for sleeping disappeared once he'd reached his room, but there was no point in worrying over it... this was normal for him. As long as he kept drinking and blocking those images out of his mind, everything would be okay.
"Do you think it's wise to be drinking so early in the morning?" Lupin's voice broke through Sirius's train of thoughts as he entered the room.
"Do you think it's wise to sneak up on an unsuspecting man who has a Hippogriff for a pet?" Sirius countered, choosing not to turn around and face his friend.
“Sirius… we need to talk.” The concern that Lupin had for his friend was very much founded, he knew that Sirius was having trouble sleeping and if there was anything he could to do help… even if it meant getting the other man to talk about what was troubling him.
“Yes, we do need to talk Remus.” Pouring himself another drink, Sirius raised his glass to Lupin before drowning it in one shot. “Pull up a chair, have a drink and let’s talk.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear that you’re willing to listen now…” Lupin managed to say as much before he was interrupted.
“Why don’t we start by talking about this secret meeting of yours last night?” The tone in Sirius’s voice was a bit sharp but given his mood, he couldn’t be bothered to sound more polite. “I heard that everyone had a jolly good time discussing yours truly when I wasn’t even around.” He had stretched out his legs on the table in front of him and turned to focus his attention solely on Lupin, knowing that he could hear the anger in his voice.
“It’s not what you’re thinking of Sirius, if you’d just let me explain.” Maybe now, he would get through.
“Oh? Do enlighten me then Moony.” Sirius waved his hand in a gesture to let Lupin get on with his reasoning.
“We were talking about Rose. And the fact that she’s going to be staying here in your house for the near future.” Lupin knew exactly what was up with Sirius and his moods, he also knew that there was no need to sit down and talk about it because Sirius wouldn’t open up, so he simply spoke about what was important.
Hearing Lupin mentioning Rose did get a reaction out of Sirius, for he dropped his glass on the table and waited to hear of anything else that his friend had to say on this matter.
“What about it?” He asked Lupin, wondering what exactly the other man meant by ‘near future’.
“I was trying to tell you this last night. Something happened… and after we found out the details of it, Alastor was quite angry over the situation and went to Hogwarts to speak to Dumbledore today morning.”
“Mad-Eye’s at Hogwarts? Why… what do you mean ‘something happened’ Remus?” Sirius could not make sense of these cryptic and vague words that Lupin was using.
“Surely you have already told him about this, Remus!” A third voice suddenly spoke up from the doorway and both men turned around to see Minerva McGonagall standing inside the room, looking very displeased.
“Minerva? I… I didn’t expect to see you here.” Lupin was the first to react to McGonagall’s presence as he stood up to greet her.
Sirius on the other hand, remained seated the way he was but chose to make himself look a little more presentable as he sat up straight and tried to wipe the sullen look off his face.
“Albus sent me, he said that the information we have on the incident would be safest here at Grimmauld Place. And with Alastor still at Hogwarts, this was the perfect time.” McGonagall explained as she turned to face Sirius, “I assume from your puzzled expression Sirius that you have not been informed about what has happened?” She asked.
“I was about to tell Sirius everything…” Realizing that this was on him, Lupin stepped forward to take responsibility.
“What exactly has happened Minerva?” Sirius asked her bluntly, hoping one of them would stop talking in circles and simply get straight to the point directly.
“Remus, would you show him the letters?” Was all McGonagall said as she waited patiently. There was no rush for her to return to the school yet, there were much more important things to be done here.
Frowning at the non-answer he got, Sirius debated for a second whether or not he should say something, but when Lupin handed him an envelope, the handwriting looked familiar to him. It was Minerva’s; she had written a letter to Lupin and was now asking him to read it? And for a moment when he glanced at his friend, Sirius could have sworn that he saw… worry in Lupin’s eyes. That only confused him more, but when he looked down at the letter as he started to read, everything changed in that moment.
“Is this some kind of a joke?” His voice was soft but firm when he finally spoke up, fingers tightening around the glass ever so slightly as he looked up at both McGonagall and Lupin.
“I can assure you Sirius, this is no joke.” She said to him, knowing full well that there was a lot more to the story that needed to be told; in order for him to understand everything, she would have to explain it all.
“That’s impossible.” Sirius could feel the anger rising within him, the words in this letter sinking in slowly but none of it making sense.
“It seems that way yes, but unfortunately what you have read is the truth.” McGonagall was now sitting down opposite Sirius and observed him, seeing the emotions in his eyes - anger, pain, confusion, hurt, sadness, loss.
“But… how?” He looked into her eyes and asked the question so sincerely, that for a moment Sirius forgot about his anger.
“I’m afraid that I do not have all the answers to your questions Sirius, but what I do know are the facts as they stand.” Now was the time to begin, “The little girl whom I brought here last night, she is the daughter of Thomas and Evelyn McKinnon.” After exchanging a quick look with Lupin, McGonagall went on with her story, “As you well know, Thomas was the youngest brother of Marlene McKinnon. He survived the attack in 1981; the details of that have not been divulged, but in the aftermath of losing his entire family, he went into hiding for the next 14 years.” She paused for a moment, to let Sirius process her words.
“Tommy McKinnon… he survived.” Sirius repeated her words, remembering all too clearly that little boy he had met countless number of times while still at Hogwarts; Marlene’s brother, a decade younger than the lot of them and still someone he had grown close to.
“He was under Auror protection for the rest of his life, Dumbledore’s orders of course. He remains to this day, one of the very few people who knew that Thomas was still alive.” She said, “A boy of only 11, he would have started Hogwarts that September… but he never had the chance; times were still dangerous after the attack on his family and we did not want to risk losing another innocent life to the War.” McGonagall’s voice faltered then, but she composed herself, “This was before You-Know-Who went after James and Lily… and Harry… but by Halloween that year, Thomas was safely moved to an unknown location.”
“What happened to him?” Something had to have gone wrong; Sirius knew of Thomas’s fate, he just didn’t know how yet.
“When he was 18, all grown up and homeschooled, Thomas met a young woman who was assigned to him as the new Auror in charge of his protection and they fell in love.” She could see that Lupin had sat down as well and was listening to the tale, for he did not know any of this either. “Alastor had trained her personally, as soon as she’d left Hogwarts three years before; I remember meeting him one afternoon and heard him talk about her, my ex-student… Evelyn Lockhart.”
“Lockhart?” Lupin and Sirius both exclaimed in surprise as they turned their heads to McGonagall; she had their complete attention now.
“Any relation to Gilderoy Lockhart?” Sirius had to ask.
“That’s not possible… is it?” Lupin answered, “I mean… Gilderoy’s father was a Muggle and so were his two older sisters, neither of them were named Evelyn as far as I know.” He too knew that the name ‘Lockhart’ was not a very common surname in the Wizarding community.
“You are correct about that Remus.” McGonagall interjected, “And even though, Gilderoy’s father was a Muggle and his wife was a Witch, it was Lockhart Sr. who had a Wizard for a brother. He was estranged from the family, cut off all ties at some point in his life… we don’t know much about him, but Evelyn was his daughter.” She tried to make the family tree sound as less complicated as she could.
“So… that means, Evelyn and Gilderoy were… cousins.” By putting two and two together, Sirius made the connection between them.
“And he is Rose’s uncle.” McGonagall added, ‘Given the circumstances though, neither he nor anyone else in the Lockhart family know what happened to Evelyn or that she even had a daughter.” This was the most crucial thing that she stressed on.
“Why not?” Sirius still didn’t understand exactly what McGonagall was trying to tell him.
“Thomas and Evelyn never stopped hiding. Even after You-Know-Who’s downfall, the Auror’s continued to do their job because they believed that there was a danger of being discovered…” She began to say.
“By any of the Death Eaters.” Lupin finished the sentence for her, now everything was starting to fall into place. He also noticed that Sirius was nodding his head which meant that he had caught on as well.
“Precisely. And once Evelyn joined the team of Auror’s, they never once let their guard down… until… last week.” McGonagall said to the two of them.
“Last week? Do you mean… that…” Sirius was shocked at hearing her words, last week meant seven days which meant that Rose had only just lost her parents?
“Yes, they died last week.” McGonagall confirmed Sirius’s unspoken question, “And that is why everything has to be kept secret even now. People have gone missing all summer, but somehow, someone found out about Thomas and Evelyn, found their location and killed them both. We have to assume that it was on You-Know-Who’s orders, but we still don’t know enough.” It was frustrating to not know the whole story, but there wasn’t anything that they could do.
“It explains why Mad-Eye was furious last night.” Lupin said, remembering how the older man had reacted to the news.
“Albus did not inform him of the situation immediately because we were trying to find Rose and make the preparations to bring Harry here at the same time; but yes, that is why Alastor has gone to Hogwarts.” She had only briefly bumped into Alastor on her way out of Dumbledore’s office but the temper in his eyes were something which never went unnoticed.
“And where exactly does Rose fall into all of this?” Sirius needed to know exactly what Dumbledore had planned when it came to the girl.
“She must be kept safe of course.” McGonagall stated the obvious, “As of now, she is the last surviving McKinnon, just like her father had been all those years ago. And if the Death Eaters found Thomas and Evelyn, they may learn that there was a child and come after her.” She said to him, meeting his gaze sternly.
“So why bring her here?” He could sense that there was something she wasn’t telling him, and if he looked at Lupin, Sirius felt that his friend did know what that was.
“Albus said that the Order is the safest place for Rose and I agree with him.” She hesitated for a second and Sirius picked up on that.
“There’s something more to it isn’t there Minerva?” Sirius needed to hear it from her.
In reply to his question, she simply nodded to Lupin and when Sirius looked at his friend, he saw that there were two more envelopes which remained sealed. Once they were in his hands, the answer became obvious, both were addressed to him; one was a letter and another, a rolled up parchment. Without waiting, Sirius tore them both open… and felt his heart stop for a second when he read the words across the parchment - ‘The Last Will and Testament of Thomas and Evelyn McKinnon’ and the letter which bore his name was written by Thomas himself. As he read, Sirius realized that McGonagall was right; though she did not know the details of it… he knew that she must have suspected what the underlying message was going to be.
“They’ve named me her legal guardian.” There was one other thing in the letter which caught his eye and even if everyone else knew about it, Sirius did not want to mention this just yet.
“Well… that’s that then.” Coincidentally or not, at that exact moment, there was a bright flash of light in the room and when it dissipated, McGonagall was holding a Phoenix feather in her hands, Dumbledore had sent a message.
“What do you mean that’s that? This is… I can’t… I’m still a wanted man!” Sirius exclaimed as he stated the most obvious point which no one seemed to remember at this time.
“And yet, here you are… in one of the safest places apart from Hogwarts. The Order is where Rose must remain, especially now that it has been decided, you are to raise her.” McGonagall countered his argument.
“Wait. I never agreed to any of this.” He didn’t know what he was thinking or saying, everything was happening too fast.
“What is there to disagree on?” She asked him, raising an eyebrow and wondered if he was going to answer her or not.
“The fact that… this girl… she’s not meant to be kept locked up here like I am! She grew up in hiding and now you want me to continue the tradition?” It was ridiculous to think that he would entertain the idea of letting a young child stay hidden for the rest of her life!
“There is nowhere else for her to go Sirius, she has no family left.” McGonagall said, she could be blunt but soft about the issue; she did understand his hesitance but there really was no other way around this.
“I know that… but…” Sirius started to say before trailing off, knowing that there was no point in trying to explain himself to her when he wasn’t sure of anything.
“If you have anything else to say, I suggest you talk to Albus about it. I must return to Hogwarts now.” Time was of the essence and she had done her part; all the documents about Rose and her parents had been left behind on the table for safekeeping.
And before Sirius could protest any further, Minerva had disappeared just as quickly as she had shown up, leaving Lupin behind to talk some sense into his friend. Tricky as it seemed, the other man knew he had to try.
“Sirius…” The second he had seen McGonagall leave, Lupin was not surprised when he saw Sirius reach for the bottle of Firewhisky that remained on the table.
“Don’t. Just… don’t.” There was too much going on far too soon and Sirius didn’t even know what he was feeling in that moment.
“A drink isn’t the answer to all your problems.” Lupin tried to point out that but he could sense the other man’s stubbornness returning.
“Actually, it is.” Gulping down one glass, Sirius began to pour another, hoping that it would help him solve all the problems.
“Rose isn’t going to go away and you’re going to have to deal with the fact that she’s living here now.” If he had to be firm about it, Lupin would; there was no need for Sirius to be constantly drowning his sorrows in that bottle.
“No.” Sirius said bluntly, saying only that and nothing else.
“What do you mean no?” Lupin didn’t like the way Sirius’s tone sounded; it was not final, but it didn’t sound of he was going to budge on this decision of his any time soon either.
“I mean… that Rose does not deserve to be here.” Speaking slowly as if to make his point clear, Sirius glanced at Lupin from the rim of his glass, finally realizing what he was trying to say.
“Are you even listening to yourself right now Sirius?” Sitting down in the chair where Minerva had sat, Lupin didn’t even bother for niceties any longer. “Rose… she’s… she’s Marlene’s niece… where else can she go?” He knew that the mere mention of Marlene’s name was a risk but he had to make Sirius see this decision was the wrong one.
“That’s exactly why I said no.” Sirius started to say, for he took a deep breath with the full intention of explaining himself.
However, before he could elaborate any further on what he was trying to tell Lupin, there was a thudding noise from somewhere nearby. The two of them looked around the room, thinking that perhaps Buckbeak needed their attention; but when they saw that the Hippogriff seemed to have fallen asleep and he was not the source of this noise, Sirius and Lupin exchanged a confused look. Five heartbeats later, something seemed to click inside Sirius’s mind as he immediately crossed the room and threw the door open.
“Where’s Tonks?” He asked Lupin, knowing that the Weasley’s had taken Harry and Hermione to Diagon Alley and if there was anyone else in the house at this hour, it would likely be Tonks.
“She’s not here.” Lupin replied as he followed Sirius outside. “She said she had to drop off some documents at the Ministry and speak to Kingsley about something important. Why? What is it Sirius?” Having just arrived at the house not more than an hour ago, Lupin didn’t quite catch on why his best friend suddenly looked pale.
Stepping out onto the corridor just then, there was something squishy by his foot and when Sirius bent down to look at the object, he realized what had just happened. There was an Extendable Ear lying on the floor, one of the twins’ inventions which he had heard of and seen firsthand; but there hadn’t been one outside the room when he’d walked in that morning, which meant… and as if to confirm the fear that had begun to grow in his heart, there was a second noise a few seconds later - one that sounded like the main house door slamming shut.
“Rose. She’s gone.” Sirius’s voice was barely a whisper, loud enough for Lupin to hear as they both realized that the girl had indeed left the house.