The Search for Life and Death

The Crooked House

Author's Note: I claim no ownership of Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Twilight Saga, Treasure Island, or the nursery rhyme after which this chapter is named. I have merely borrowed a few notes, a few characters, and made a few references at our monthly tea party. Do join us, won't you?

As always,

Live long. Live well. Write.



The Crooked House

There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile,He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

- unknown

"Order up!"

The hours between eight and ten o'clock in the morning were always the busiest for The Crooked House. Muggles from the area would rise early and stop in for breakfast, swarming through the door like cattle, scurrying for a table.

Minerva McGonagall, however, did not scurry, and she was most certainly not a cow, or a Muggle, for that matter. She pushed open the door to The Crooked House, smiling in amusement at the bell that jingled upon her entry, and made her way over to a small table in the corner of the room. It was out of sight of a lot of the Muggles, but allowed her full view of the restaurant. And as anyone who knew Minerva was well aware, she enjoyed watching people.

Sitting down at the table with a smile, she didn't have to wait long for Jacob to come over to her table with a smile on his face and a menu in his hand. He held it out to her with a knowing look. "I don't suppose you'll be needing this today, ma'am?"

Minerva smiled gently at the waiter. He had been the one to serve her each day that she came to The Crooked House, always with a smile and a friendly demeanor. She had grown accustomed to his shoulder-length black hair, tied back in a tight knot at the base of his neck, his tanned skin, and his kind, dark eyes. He was quite an attractive young man – something she had seen more than a few teenaged girls act upon while ordering their meals. Jacob was always polite when gently letting them down, however. For whatever reason, it seemed to amuse him to direct their attention to his co-worker, Jack.

Jack was equally as attractive as Jacob. His wild, dark blonde hair was tossed all over the place as though he had been sitting on a broomstick and spinning in circles as fast as he was able. Of course, that wouldn't make any sense, since The Crooked House was a muggle restaurant that Minerva just happened to enjoy visiting. Jack's skin was also tanned, though from the sun, unlike Jacob's natural complexion, and his lime green eyes always seemed to hold a spark of mischief within them. Whenever one of the young women Jacob had let down would turn their sights on him, Jack would offer a grin that would have them all swooning, but he never acted on it. He simply checked them out at the register (in more ways than one, he would say), and cleaned up the tables after the customers left.

The only employee that was rarely ever seen (but often heard) by the patrons was the cook. Jim was Jacob's younger brother. What Minerva had seen of the boy revealed tan skin, wind-swept brown hair, and brown eyes. He had been wearing a large set of headphones when Minerva had seen him, the music blaring from them so loudly that she could hear it across the room. He had been coming out to ask his brother a question at the time about an order. Jacob had taken a look at the order slip and rewrote what he had originally written upon it, and Jim had quickly went back into the kitchens to continue making breakfast for everyone.

Minerva smiled. The three of them were interesting, and she rather enjoyed her weekly visit to The Crooked House.

"No, Jacob, thank you," she said, and watched the amusement rise in his dark eyes. "I'll take the same as usual."

"Two eggs over-easy, toast with jam, a slice of peach cobbler, and chamomile tea with lemon. It will be out in but a moment, ma'am."

"Thank you, Jacob," Minerva said, as he retreated to the kitchens to hand the order over to Jim, before bringing out her tea.

It was interesting to watch the muggles who came in, talking to Jacob and Jack in a friendly manner, never knowing that there was more to them than there appeared.

Minerva could think on Jacob as an attractive young man with a friendly smile, Jack as a laugh-loving flirt, and Jim as a quiet, music-loving young man who tended to hide from attention, but she knew better. Those initial thoughts were for the benefit of people like Albus Dumbledore, who occasionally liked to use their knowledge and practice of Legilimency to read other people's thoughts. Minerva couldn't block the Headmaster from her thoughts completely like Severus was able, but she could certainly misdirect him.

She knew who Jacob, Jack, and Jim really were, and she was still wholly amused by their choice of names.

"Why Jim, though? Isn't that a little risky?"

The dark-eyed man had glanced at his blonde companion, both chuckling in amusement. "Jim Hawkins, actually. Haven't you ever read Treasure Island?"

"Not for many years," Minerva admitted.

"He acts a bit like him, doesn't he?" Jacob asked. "It's almost stunning, how much he has in common with a fictional character."

"Wouldn't the muggles catch on faster? After all, Meyers did write her books for muggles despite being a witch, but the other two are rather popular among this crowd."

"That's true," the blonde admitted, "but to be honest, I'm pretty sure the muggles recognize the references." He jerked a thumb in his companion's direction. "Current popularity as it is, they recognize Fluffy over here quicker than the rest of us. I think they believe it's something of a game, and we're of a mind to just let them continue to think that. It's not doing anyone any harm."

"Even the name of the restaurant can be attributed to muggle culture," Jacob admitted. "A nursery rhyme not many adults may remember, but still." His smile was amused and a little teasing. "We're still debating on which of us is the crooked man who lives in the crooked house."

"Harry refuses to take sides."

Minerva glanced up, feeling someone watching her, and saw Jim standing next to Jack at the register. He grinned at her and waved, and she waved back with a smile. Yes, she was well aware that Jim Hawkins was actually Harry Potter in disguise, just as Captain Jack Sparrow was Sirius Black, his godfather, and Jacob Black was Remus Lupin, a dear friend of her and the others, both. She was well-aware, and she was keeping it a close secret. The only other creature who happened to know was a phoenix by the name of Fawkes, and he had already decided to refuse to tell Albus Dumbledore anything.

The stubbornness of a phoenix is altogether cat-like, Minerva mused, and sipped her tea.

When Jacob brought her meal, she smiled and ate it quietly, as other patrons came and went. When she was finished, she ordered more tea and sat in her seat, watching people come and go, young women flirt and get let down. She couldn't help but be utterly proud of her three students, for though two had graduated Hogwarts years before, they would always be her students, as far as she was concerned.

At two o'clock, the last of the patrons left with smiles, full bellies, and pleasant farewells, and Jack locked the doors behind them. Pulling down the blinds over the windows and doors and then performing a spell to shield the images within from magical detection, Sirius Black waved his wand and transfigured himself back into his normal form.

Long black hair fell in smooth waves down to between his shoulder blades. Sirius had it tied back with a black ribbon. He wore the black slacks and apron, and white shirt that made up his uniform even under the illusion spell. He grinned over at Minerva as she stood, smiling.

"Minnie! You've come to visit again! That's the seventh Monday in a row. I know you love me, but you're making Harry and Remus jealous."

Minerva rolled her eyes at Sirius' antics, because it was expected that she roll her eyes and not burst into laughter like she dearly wanted to. She acted as though she was insulted that he would think to grasp her hand and twirl her around, grinning at her face, but she couldn't keep the smile off of her lips.

"Hello, Sirius."

"Ah, and she remembers my name!" He wiped away an imaginary tear. "I told Remy – your heart would be mine one day." He flashed her the flirtatious grin that everyday caused a new teenage girl to swoon, but Minerva merely scowled, her lips thin.

"That'll be enough of that, young man. I'll not be treated like some love-sick fifteen year old."

Sirius released a put-upon sigh, placing a hand over his heart and sitting down on a booth seat. "Rejected again. My heart shan't survive it this time."

Remus came out of the kitchens with a smirk on his face and Harry at his side. "Honestly, Padfoot, you'd think you'd learn."

"The heart wants what the heart wants, Moony." Sirius gave his friend a lovesick expression. Remus rolled his eyes and swatted Sirius on the back of the head.

"Move over, Pads."

Minerva smiled sadly as Sirius moved over, frowning softly when his face was out of Remus' view. She'd known the two for the seven years they had attended Hogwarts, and then years afterward in the Order, and now she was getting to know them even better. She knew how Sirius felt about Remus, and it broke her heart a little each time she saw him try to hint at his feelings, and the werewolf just not catch on. But she wouldn't say anything. It wasn't her place, and Remus needed to figure out Sirius' emotions on his own. For both their sakes, she hoped he did it soon.

Sliding over in her own seat, Minerva smiled as Harry sat down next to her. She placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently, eliciting a grin from the silent boy.

She had worried when the three disappeared how Harry would get along being unable to speak or hear, but she hadn't needed to. Spending time with Remus and Sirius had done wonders for the soon-to-be-fifteen-year-old. He smiled more during Minerva's weekly visits than she had seen him do during an entire school year. It was revealing, but it also pleased her greatly that her two students had been so able to help him.

"How have things been?"

Remus chuckled. "Busy," he admitted, and Minerva knew he didn't just mean The Crooked House. "We've been working on teaching Harry how to read lips." Remus was facing the younger boy as he spoke. "He's been doing quite well, and I know it's not an easy trick to learn." Minerva saw Harry's grin grow at the praise, and was pleased.

"Sign Language is proving to be a little difficult, but to be honest, I had a good deal of trouble learning it, myself. It took me a few years and I still have some problems, and we've only been practicing a little over a month. We've got the alphabet down, and finger-spelling. For the moment, I think that's going to be the most useful. We're more interested in making sure Harry isn't seen by others as being limited. I know once he returns to school, some people would quickly take advantage if that appeared to be the case."

Minerva nodded and then, thoughtfully, "So Harry is returning to school?" She gave the young man beside her a sideways glance.

"Of course," Remus said, smiling and ignoring Sirius' grumble. "We've talked about it and we are well-aware of the problems that might arise, but Harry had his own comments to make. Ultimately, regardless of what we think, it is his choice. And…" Remus nodded, a somewhat sad smile on his face. "I can understand that he wishes to return to school and see his friends. Were I in the same position, that would have been my choice, as well."

"Mine, too," Sirius admitted, "though I don't like the fact that I can't go with him."

Minerva smiled gently. "I can understand that quite well, but I can assure you that I will be keeping a close eye on Harry during the school year." She turned to the young boy sitting next to her, who was squinting his eyes and clearly trying to read what she was saying from the side. "I want you to know, you can come to me if you ever need something, Harry. No matter what."

She watched as the boy's mouth moved in the same manner as hers had, eyes still squinted, before brightening. He grinned and nodded, and then made a motion with his hand, touching the tips of his index and middle fingers to his chin and pulling it away gently. Minerva frowned in confusion.

"It means 'thank you,'" Remus supplied helpfully.

"You're very welcome, Harry."

"Have you given any thought to coming back early?"

Minerva and Jacob were walking together from the restaurant to the nearby bus stop. Harry and Sirius were back at The Crooked House – specifically in the apartment hidden underground, where they had been living these past two months.

"I've talked to Sirius about it, but you've heard him already. He'd rather keep Harry with him from here on out." Remus sighed. "It makes talking to him difficult. He's afraid, you know."

"Yes, I can understand that. Things haven't been easy for any of you."

They walked in silence for a time, lost in their own thoughts and enjoying the company of the other. Since the first time that Minerva had visited, Remus (in the guise of Jacob) would walk her to the bus stop some blocks away, where she would call the Knight Bus to pick her up once all of the muggles were gone.

Hesitantly, Minerva said, "He wanted me to deliver a message to you." She felt Remus stiffen beside her, but he said nothing. "An apology."

"From the Headmaster?"

She nodded without looking at him. "Yes."

The silence returned, but didn't last as long. "May I ask you a question, Minerva?"

"You may."

"Do you trust him? I mean – really trust him."

What an oddly difficult question. "I trust Albus Dumbledore to do what he thinks is right," she admitted, and glanced over at Remus' pensive expression. "Whether or not that ends up being what he should have done is always a question for hindsight. I do know, Remus, that Albus is not a cruel man by nature, and that he truly does care for Harry. He does not want to do him any harm. However, I also think that he remains blind to some aspects of the situation."

"He wants to see the good in people."

"He always has tried to find it, and while I agree with him in that everyone has some light to them, I also know that people can ignore that part of themselves as easily as others ignore the dark."

"He's hoping we'll come back, isn't he?"

"People have been looking for the three of you for over a month. It took him that long to realize that if you don't want to be found, with Sirius on your side, you won't be. He's worried about you, though, even knowing that I've been in contact with you, as well as Fawkes. I'm sure if I had allowed him to write a letter for me to bring to you, it would have also contained an attempt to convince you to come back."

"As well as a tracking spell to locate where we are."

"No doubt," Minerva admitted, smiling. "Which is why I told him I would deliver his message verbally. It's merely an apology, and a promise that should you have questions about what has occurred in Harry's past, he is willing to answer them."

Remus nodded. "We may have some, on Harry's behalf."

Minerva glanced at him. "He's told you what happened, then?"

"As much as he knows. There are things that Harry has been confused about for years, which the Headmaster has failed to reveal to him, no doubt as a means to protect him. The problem is that, for whatever reason, Voldemort seems intent on coming after Harry, and he cannot fight something if he does not know it."

Minerva flinched lightly at the dark lord's name, though between Sirius, Remus, and Albus, she was becoming increasingly used to hearing it. That wasn't something she was particularly happy about.

"Well, he has made the offer, and Harry has a right to know, as many things as he's faced in the past. Especially last year…" She shook her head lightly. "How's he taking that?"

"He's been getting better. He still has nightmares now and then, but things were a great deal worse at the beginning. I know it's not something that he's going to get over right away, and I think he understands that, as well. I'm just glad we're helping."

"The two of you are good for him. I can see how much better he's doing, having been with you. Frankly, if you choose to stay in hiding until September first, I'll understand completely. I'm not here to convince you either way. I enjoy being able to check on all three of you, and I'll do whatever I can to help." She smiled in amusement. "It's also nice to see that you both took something from my class. Your appearances were wonderfully transfigured."

"I'll pass the praise along."

The two of them came to a halt at the bus stop, watching as the muggles loaded up into the waiting vehicle. Minerva turned to Remus as the driver took off, knowing by now that she never took his ferry.

"If you do decide to come back early, let me know beforehand. There are a few people who aren't particular pleased with you right now."

"Molly and Arthur. Yes, we heard." At Minerva's surprised look, Remus smiled. "Hermione Granger truly is the brightest witch of her age. Apparently, she and the Weasleys have taken up residence at Headquarters?"

Minerva nodded, a glimmer is curiosity in her eyes. "Earlier this month."

"She sent us a letter via Fawkes, telling us what she, Ron, and Miss Weasley were able to gather about the attempts to find us. Molly and Arthur are apparently displeased with both Sirius and myself, as well as Ron?"

"Yes, he… spoke his mind to his parents, it seems. I daresay that young man needs to learn when to keep his mouth shut."

"Subtle, Ron is not, I've learned," Remus said quietly, "but loyal – very loyal. I do know that Harry wishes to see them quite badly, so it's entirely possible we will be returning soon – within a few weeks. I will let you know, whatever our decision."

"I appreciate that. I'll see you next week."

Remus nodded. "Good-bye, Minerva." The Transfiguration professor raised her wand, summoning the Knight Bus in a BANG!, as Remus Lupin turned and headed back to The Crooked House, to have yet another discussion with Sirius on how keeping Harry prisoner in the apartment for the rest of his life was not ideal.

Make use of all of your senses, not matter your talent. You use your eyes naturally – you're a human. You cannot hear, so use your sense of smell. What do I smell like, Harry? Now, find me.

The room was completely dark except for the golden words that floated before his eyes, glowing. It was one of the ways that Sirius and Remus had been using to communicate with him. He couldn't hear them speak, and when Sirius was trying to train him, it didn't make much sense for him to stand there and try to read Sirius' lips when he should have been focusing on something else. So Sirius would write what he wanted Harry to know on golden lettering in the air. Harry would read it, and then wave it away with his wand.

Then, the fun began.

Finding Sirius was a game that Harry's godfather seemed to enjoy just a little too much. He put a disturbing amount of effort into hiding, and then would wait – sometimes for hours – until Harry was able to come and find him. Admittedly, though, Harry was not only getting better at finding his godfather during these games, but he was also becoming more observant because of it.

That's been moved, Harry thought, looking at the blanket on the back of the couch. One of the corners had been flipped back, as though someone had brushed by it quickly. Harry moved past the couch, his eyes – back to green now that the transfiguration had been removed – scanning the room for more clues as to where to find his godfather.

Over the past two months spent with Sirius and Remus, the three of them had done a lot. The first thing they had done, of course, had been finding a place where they could stay, without worrying about being found. Sirius and Remus had quickly figured something out, and had explained the history of said idea to Harry in detail.

The Crooked House was not their idea. The restaurant had been a cover long before they were born, built by Harry's great grandparents, on his father's side. During the war with Grindewald, a lot of people had gone into hiding for safety, but some people had gone into hiding and then aided in the war from that location. It had been the idea of James' grandparents to disguise themselves as muggles and open a restaurant in a muggle neighborhood.

A spell was used upon the restaurant that when it was activated, the restaurant appeared to be open and people would simply think that it had always been there. They would go if they wished to, and if they didn't, they wouldn't. When the spell was deactivated, the restaurant would simply appear to be closed and, regardless of the time of day, that wouldn't seem odd to anyone – even if the restaurant sat closed for a hundred years, as it had before the three of them had reactivated the spell.

There were living quarters as a large apartment underneath the restaurant. The entrance to the apartment, however, had been crafted in Wizard Space, so that muggles were not only unable to see it, but unable to enter it unless pulled in by a witch or wizard. The entrance was, amusingly enough, in the oven, and sealed by a password. The knowledge of The Crooked House, as well as the password, had been passed down through James' family. He had shared the information with Sirius and Remus one summer when the three had been hanging out, and when Sirius had run away from home when he was younger, before he went to live with James' family, he had found the Crooked House and hid in the underground apartment.

Learning about this piece of his family history had been a wonderful surprise, and Harry was grateful that Sirius and Remus had remembered it and chosen to use it. After making their way to The Crooked House, they had made sure everything they needed was there, before taking a week to simply relax.

Although Harry had been healed by Madam Pomfrey's magic (Remus and Sirius still hadn't revealed all of the details to him), he had still felt tired, and the inability to hear was disorienting. Harry spent the majority of that first week sleeping, waking up from nightmares, eating meals with Remus and Sirius, and growing accustomed to his new disabilities. The second week had been spent throwing a raging fit about his new disabilities.

It was only during the third week, when Harry was trying to think of a pseudonym and appearance to be disguised under, that Remus had informed Harry of his intentions to teach him how to read lips, and at least the basics of Sign Language.

It had been calming to Harry, who hadn't seen how he would be able to function without being able to hear or speak. How was he supposed to cast spells if he couldn't say the incantations? He hadn't realized that casting didn't require the actual incantation or even words, until Remus had told him so.

Since then, the three of them had come up with a routine. They would get up at five o'clock in the morning, dress in their uniforms and then disguise themselves as Jim, Jacob, and Jack, respectively. They would open The Crooked House, and once people would start filtering in, Remus would take their orders, Sirius would check them out and clear up tables, and Harry would sit in the kitchens and peer through a wall that was transparent on his side, and try to read the lips of the people that Remus was talking to.

When Remus came back to "give Jim his order," he would check what Harry had seen people speak, correct him if necessary, and then leave the order to be made by the cooking spells that were constantly in motion in the kitchen. Harry had never heard it, of course, but apparently there was a spell that would call out "Order up!" every time one of the order tickets had been fulfilled.

At two o'clock, after the lunch rush was over, they would close The Crooked House, and all of the patrons would leave as the spell deactivated. On Mondays, they would spend a few hours visiting with Professor McGonagall, and when she left, Remus would walk her to the bus stop, and Sirius and Harry would go down into the apartment and play Finding Sirius.

Any other day, the three of them would eat a late lunch, and then they would practice casting without speaking. Harry was surprised to learn that, so long as he knew the actual purpose and function of the spell in question, he could actually cast it easier without saying anything than if he did so while worrying about saying the incantation correctly, as well. Remus told him that this was actually something that a lot of people had trouble with, because they were unable to see how unnecessary the words were. Harry wasn't sure he actually believed him, but for him, the wordless casting was easy. Over time, these lessons in casting varied between practice duels and learning new spells, depending on how the day was going.

Afterward, the three of them would have dinner, and then Harry would work on his summer homework. He was nearly done with all of it – having Sirius and Remus around was a great deal of help, as between the two of them, he had a tutor in almost every subject at Hogwarts. Once his homework was completed, they did whatever they wanted for the rest of the night, sometimes playing Chess or Exploding Snap, reading a book, or just laying down and relaxing.

It was a lot of work, that was true, but Harry didn't really mind. He enjoyed spending time with Remus and Sirius, even if they were in hiding. He'd never had a summer that was so wonderful, and part of him hoped that it would never end. Another part, though, missed his friends terribly, and knew that it would soon be time to return to school. He worried a little about how that would go. Would his friends be okay with the fact that he couldn't hear them or couldn't speak, or would they not want to hang out with him anymore? They wouldn't be mad at him for leaving, would they?

The curtain around the window was hanging differently than it had been earlier, and since the windows were only spelled to show an outdoor view, none of them had been opened. Smiling, Harry threw the cloth aside and pointed his wand at a large black dog hunkered low to the ground.

The dog's ears pricked and his tongue lolled out of his mouth in a gesture Harry had quickly determined meant Good job. He grinned.

Quite brilliantly done, and in character, though it brings a hint of demonology into the mix that is well out of my comfort zone.

Do not be so quick to assume. :) Looks, after all, rarely define anything completely - most especially in a world of magic.

What does this mean for Conan, of Draco is now an heir to Severus?

That will come to light later.

ElfIcarii: GET OUT OF MY HEAD! ;) You're curiosity is "altogether cat-like." And as to your guesses - we shall see.

Today's fic-recommendation is Completely Incomplete, by Leigh A. Sumpter - a Marauder-era fic which I enjoyed reading some years back, and which I hope you will, too.

Many thanks to all who read, reviewed, and those many of you who have been adding this story to your favorites list. I hope you all enjoyed this chapter and I look forward to your input. Until next chapter, dear readers, I bid you a Happy belated-Summer Solstice and, as always,

Live long. Live well. Write. Read. Dream.

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