They landed in the back garden of 12 Grimmauld Place. Everything was overgrown and unkempt; a wild tangle of tall grass, weeds and flowers that had escaped their beds and meandered all over the once pristine lawn. The old trees that bordered the property created dark imposing shapes in the night. The protective statues were pale lumps of marble. They didn't wake with his arrival and Sirius breathed out in relief.
The house was under a Death Fidelius. He'd known that being a Black was enough to see the house but he'd been unsure that the actual wards around the property would accept him. He had been an outcast because of his allegiance to the Light – to the Potters – and had been worried that there might have been something to keep him out specifically.
He threw a look at the neighbouring houses. He knew the spells disguising the garden and house would mean muggles and other wizards would skip over Number 12 and see the next house along. "You can stay in the garden, Buckbeak, or go on your way." He said fondly. "You've saved my life and I thank you."
Buckbeak bowed low and Sirius did the same. The hippogriff turned and launched itself back into the air; a couple of sweeps of its powerful wings later and it was out of sight.
"Safe travels, my friend." Sirius murmured in the darkness. He made his way to the house, taking the side path to the steps down to the back door that led into the basement, the old merchant's entrance.
The narrow black door opened on his approach. It looked as though the wards had granted him more than simply access; they were inviting him in. Sirius took a deep breath and entered his childhood home.
The smell of dank mould and decay hit his nostrils immediately and he cursed his sensitive Padfoot nose. He wished he had a wand to dispel the stench. He stepped into the small receiving area for tradesmen and the door closed behind him, locking him in; the gaslight flickered on recognising his presence. Sirius ignored the doors to his left which would lead to a potions lab, a cell that he would rather avoid, and a staircase down to a cellar. He headed up the staircase to his right instead and came out in the long narrow kitchen.
The room was filthy with dust and dirt. He grimaced and hoped the rest of the house wasn't in a similar state. He'd been informed of his mother's and grandfather's death by the warden so for the house to be deserted and empty wasn't a surprise. He'd just expected the old house elf, Kreacher, would have kept up maintenance. Maybe the elf had died. Or his mother had killed him. He wouldn't put it past the barmy old bitch.
He opened up the door that led to the reception hall.
His mother's voice had him snapping around in shock, his heart pounding. A portrait glared back at him in the half-light coming through the window above the front door.
A familiar pop signalled the arrival of the missing elf. The aged being took in Sirius with a glare. "You is not welcome here, Master."
Sirius smiled at the elf's unwilling confirmation of what Sirius had hoped: that with the passing of his grandfather, it was Sirius who was the recognised heir and Head of House. "My house, Kreacher." He stated firmly. "You can stay and obey me or you can have clothes."
"Kreacher will stay despite the traitor to his mistress who is now his master."
Sirius let one eyebrow creep up in his forehead and the elf shuffled his feet and pulled at his ears, punishing himself automatically for his disparaging remark. "You will refer to me as Lord Black. You will not tell anyone of my location ever. You will obey only me and you will inform no-one of my secrets. You will speak to no-one without my express permission. Is that clear?"
"Kreacher obeys Lord Black."
"He's not Lord yet." His mother sniffed in her portrait. "The rings are in the vaults. I hardly think you, a convicted criminal, will be able to get to them. At least, you redeemed yourself at the end."
Sirius stared at her. "I hate to disappoint you, Mother, but I didn't actually betray the Potters or kill those muggles." He paused. "Actually, that's a lie because I love to disappoint you and would love to continue doing so. Unfortunately, I have recently realised that I have to restore the standing of the Ancient and Noble House of Black so I can take over the wizarding world thus ensuring my guardianship of my godson. So apparently you're going to get some of what you've always wanted."
His mother's portrait stared back at him, speechless.
"Yes," Sirius agreed, understandingly, "I was shocked and horrified myself."
Kreacher's ears perked up and he straightened with a gleam in his oversized eyes. "You intend to restore the standing of the Ancient and Noble House of Black?"
"I do, and as my mother well knows, I can perform the inheritance ritual here." He pointed at the elf. "This place is a mess and not in keeping with either our wealth or reputation. You will immediately begin cleaning and redecorating it starting with the master bedroom and bathroom for my use. Dark artefacts are to be placed in a trunk for my inspection. Neutral colours will be used and you will avoid the depressing gothic horrors of my mother's tastes. I will be in the study."
Kreacher snapped his fingers and popped off before Sirius could say anything more.
Sirius gave a heavy sigh and turned to his right. He avoided the staircase leading up to the bedrooms, catching a glimpse of a wall decorated with the heads of house elves. They hadn't been there when he'd run away; his mother must have gone completely insane in her final years, he mused. The door to his right would lead to the formal dining room, the informal living room and the Summer room overlooking the garden. He barely glanced at the doors to his left – the reception room with its public floo, and the formal parlour – instead, he took the door at the end of the corridor. It opened up into a cosy library. The main library was at the country estate but Sirius couldn't remember its location because of the Death Fidelius. The knowledge would return to him when he had completed his inheritance ritual. He bypassed the shelves of books, noting he'd have to go through them and put the more dangerous away. The door to the study was to the right and he entered the room with trepidation.
For a moment, he stood just inside the doorway. Kreacher must have raced to get to the room because it was devoid of the dust and decay in the rest of the house even though the décor remained tired and familiar, the ornate wallpaper peeling at the edges. There was a roaring fire, casting warmth across the room and the lamps had been lit. There was also a tea-tray loaded with sandwiches and cake that Sirius hoped Kreacher had conjured and not made given the state of the kitchen.
Sirius breathed in the scent of the old leather chairs; the faint lingering scent of the tobacco his father had preferred. He remembered only too well the last time he'd been in the room; it had been the Summer after his fifth year and his father had asked him bluntly what his allegiances were. Sirius had told him that he would never bow down to Voldemort; that he would never take the Dark Mark; that he would stand beside the House of Potter in the war.
His father had been surprisingly civil and agreeable. He had even suggested having someone on the other side of the war would help reduce the risk that the House would be decimated – after all, if the Light won then hopefully Sirius would be alive to continue the line. Sirius had politely agreed and privately thought he would never be the Head of House despite his father spending years grooming him to be just that; that he would never want to be the Head of House.
The irony was bitter to swallow, Sirius thought with dry amusement. Old history, Sirius told himself briskly. He might never have intended returning but he was there for Harry. He just had to remember that and all else was tolerable.
He sat down in his father's chair – his chair. He ate one of the waiting sandwiches as he reached down and rummaged in the top right drawer. He drew out a selection of wands; his father's, his mother's and his great-grandfather's. He tested each as he finished the make-shift meal and drank the accompanying juice and water. He settled on his great-grandfather's wand of oak with a core of dragon scale. It was an acceptable match and would suffice until his name was cleared and he could replace it.
Sirius pulled out a small ritual bowl and dagger from the bottom drawer. "Familius magicus." He tapped the bowl with his wand making the inside cloud up with swirling silver sparkles of magic. He slashed his palm without ceremony and let the blood drip into the bowl.
"I, Sirius Orion Black, claim by blood, by law, by magic, the House of Black. I swear to lead it with honour and fairness; to protect and shelter those who belong or ally to the House of Black by blood, by law, by magic, by oath; to deliver justice on those who break oath and trust with the House of Black. So have I sworn; so mote it be."
The magic surged out of the bowl and surrounded him; a bright cascading stream of silver that blanketed his core and tested his worthiness. He could barely breathe under the power of it; magic steeped in blood and ritual; magic as black as his name. But he refused to bow to it; he was a Black and the magic was his to command not the other way around. The magic left abruptly and settled before him in the cloudy shape of the house totem: a silver hooded snake. It bowed to him solemnly and disappeared.
It had worked.
Sirius let out a shaky breath and pushed his hand through his wild hair. The strands tangled unexpectedly with a ring on his finger and he drew his hand down to stare at the Lordship ring; a black onyx stone stamped with a silver snake set in a platinum band. The ring had been called to his finger with the ritual. He'd worn the matching Heir ring once upon a time and as his eyes fell to the desk he saw it sitting in the bowl. He gave a sigh, picked up the Heir ring and secured it in the wooden box on his father's desk where the ring had traditionally been kept. A tap of his wand had the box locked and only he would be able to open it.
He got up and turned to the fireplace with its surround and mantel of stone. In the centre of the mantelpiece the Black crest was carved in wondrous detail; it was also the keystone for the wards. Sirius pressed his still bloodied left palm onto it. He felt the wards shift to his control.
"Fidelius." Sirius said firmly. He felt the wards respond and knew his location was hidden completely with satisfaction. "I, Sirius Orion Black, am named Secret Keeper." He focused again and shut down the floos with a thought; the portraits were put to sleep to prevent them from spying.
He sat back down, exhausted. There wasn't much time left before the end of school and there were a hundred things he had to do in order to ensure Harry would be away from the Dursleys sooner rather than later, but in truth all he wanted at that moment was a bed.
Kreacher popped in beside him. He held out a folded piece of parchment and another ornate box. He looked nervous. "Young Master Regulus ordered Kreacher to give these to you but Mistress punished Kreacher when Kreacher told her of young Master Regulus's death and ordered him to stay in the house."
Sirius took them with a frown.
"Lord Black's bedroom and bathroom are ready when you wish to retire." Kreacher popped away again.
Sirius looked down at the box and parchment. He sighed and set the box on the desk, opening the parchment.
I regret many things but mostly I regret listening to our Mother and not following your path. I broke faith in the House of Black by taking the Mark of Voldemort, someone who I have realised is totally without honour; someone who would prefer to rule us all. He kills without regard for blood or for allegiance. I have seen pureblood wizards in his service fall at his hand and I have seen enough of the horrors he perpetrates to know I regret my decision to follow him.
I write this with the knowledge that I go to betray him tonight. It is this mission I must tell you about; he created Horcruxes. He has used items of great value to do so believing they will not be destroyed. He gave Hufflepuff's Cup to Bella for safe-keeping, a diary or journal of some sort to Lucius and the location of Slytherin's locket to me. I do not believe these are the only ones – he prefers seven as a number in rituals so with the assumption the seventh fragment remains in his mortal body or on the mortal plane, there will be three others. He spoke of an old Head of House ring which I fear may be a fourth, and I believe another item of Ravenclaw's resides at Hogwarts but as he only made an allusion, I could be wrong. That leaves one unaccounted for, brother. (I know you have problems with basic arithmetic). These abominations will need to be destroyed before he can be defeated outright.
Tonight, I will retrieve the locket. I hope I return and tell you about this letter in person when I present the locket and my knowledge to you and ask for protection. If I don't return, Kreacher has orders to give this and hopefully the locket to you. I hope it helps the Light – more importantly, I hope it helps you.
I have not been the best brother, Sirius, but I go tonight hoping to restore my honour and do you proud.
The letter crumpled in his hand. Sirius closed his eyes, remembering his brother. Sirius had protected him from their mother all their childhood but the year Sirius had gone to Hogwarts had been enough for her to turn Regulus against him. He sighed deeply, swamped with his own regret that Regulus hadn't lived to tell him in person that he'd seen the light – literally.
But…bloody hell: horcruxes!
That was how Voldemort would rise again. And when he did, he'd come after Harry, Sirius was certain of it.
It was just too much to think about after the day and night he'd had – finally having a chance to talk with Harry, facing Peter, reconciling with Moony, having to charge down Moony to save the kids, having Harry save him from the Dementors, having Harry save him from being Kissed, escaping, claiming the House of Black and setting the Fidelius charm.
Tomorrow; he'd deal with it tomorrow, Sirius decided, locking up the box Kreacher had left – the one which presumably contained the locket with its fragment of Voldemort's soul – in the desk.
He went in search of his bed.