Title: Room with a View - Part 1/3
Summary: The portraits at number twelve, Grimmauld Place have seen many strange things over the years, but none as strange as Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy staying under the same roof while there's a war going on outside.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): Mild voyeurism. Sort of.
Word Count: ~ 24.000
Author's Notes: Dear Emma, I tried to include as many of your wishes as possible – I hope you like the result! Thank you to my beta who remains anonymous as well for the time being.
He'd never really understood why the others were complaining about the dire times they had to live through – at least, something was happening now, eventually, after all those years of silence and forced seclusion.
Admitted, he was one of the older ones, and perhaps the others had yet to understand what years and decades of solitude did to a once fiery spirit, to what levels one was willing to stoop to for a bit of entertainment.
That didn't mean that the ongoing events were to Arcturus Black's taste. These worthless creatures scurrying to and fro in what had once been his venerable home should definitely consider themselves lucky that he wasn't in any way capable of interfering, apart from startling them with his cold, sneering voice. In doing that he took great delight, especially in scaring those redheaded, shabbily donned simpletons he'd instantly recognised as Weasleys. The brief pang he had felt in his heart (or rather, he'd corrected himself cynically, where his heart would have been), unexpected and unwanted, and evoked by a scene so many years ago when another redhead had dared to think he'd give him his beautiful, promising daughter Cedrella's hand: that tiny jolt of pain made him enjoy vexing that bunch of imbeciles even more. The day he'd succeeded in making the Weasley girl cry was to be considered one of the highlights of the last decade.
Yet, generally speaking, the current happenings didn't bode well for a satisfying future. It had taken him some time to identify (and he'd still not quite memorised) the protagonists who'd so suddenly appeared inside the house and supplied him and his fellow portraits with cause for gossip. Most of the portraits - at least the few who still had their wits together - had caved in and succumbed to the temptation of having something else to talk about than the glorified remnants of a once great past. They'd agreed on meeting on a loose schedule, and even his haughty sister-in-law had lowered herself to contributing the snippets of information she'd gathered from the two girls who'd slept in her room, that Weasley creature and another one whom she suspected of being – he couldn't believe his ears, how outrageous! – a Mudblood.
The revival had started about three years ago - but he wasn't sure, days and weeks and months and even years had started blending into each other long ago - when the whole house had been in turmoil over the return of the last male Black; that brat Sirius who, he remembered all too clearly, as a child had used to stick his tongue out at him and pluck at the golden threads of his and the others' names on the Black Family Tapestry.
Sirius' death had not come out of a clear sky, that house-elf had told them about the events accompanying the rise of whom it'd called the Dark Lord (and Arcturus had racked his brain for several days to recall when he'd last heard that name, but to no avail), and had boasted about the role he'd played in the last Black's downfall. The determinedly triumphant screams of his grandniece Walburga had been piercing Arcturus's ears for days, until she thankfully withdrew to keep a portrait company which she'd long ago stored up in the mildewed attic.
Despite the in and out of all kinds of faces, the life - well, life - at number twelve, Grimmauld Place had resumed its usual boring course after the death of Sirius, and Arcturus deeply regretted that he'd missed ordering Kreacher to re-hang his portrait into the gallery along the staircase where some of the younger offsprings hung. His grandfather Regulus was next door, but since talking to him had already been rather pointless when he was still alive Arcturus hardly ever bothered to visit him. Besides, his grandfather's deafness hadn't improved during his canvas-y existence at all.
Boring beyond belief, he found, but there was at least the prospect of future entertainmen, and thus Arcturus was biding his time, waiting for events to unfold.
An uproar from downstairs startled him out of his sleep, and after a brief moment of annoyance he pricked up his ears, trying to make out what the shouting was all about. He was still pondering whether it was worth the effort of moving downstairs into the hall when the door of his room crashed open and a tall blond boy rushed in. Slamming the door shut, he stormed over to the bed and slid down at its end onto the floor, his whole body shaking violently, his face buried in his hands. Arcturus grumbled silently, for the split second he'd been able to see the boy's face had piqued his interest; there was something familiar about the boy's features which he couldn't quite put his finger on.
The boy sat still, squatting, his ragged breaths subsiding into a more regular rhythm, yet his fingers which were clenching and unclenching betrayed his tension. After what seemed like hours, a sharp knock on the door caused him to jump up, and Arcturus held his breath.
"What is it?" the boy snapped. "What do you want? Leave me alone, I've nothing to say to you!"
A cool, unemotional voice answered, and Arcturus flinched as he recognised it as the voice of that exceedingly revolting man with the greasy black hair and hooked nose he'd had to endure as a visitor in his room several times over the past few months.
"Draco, I'd rather cut this short. Since I do not doubt that today's events have worn you out I suggest you cease to behave like a sulking child and open the door so I can hand you the draught I've taken the liberty to concoct for you."
The boy stared at the door, clearly taken aback. "P-Professor?" he stammered, and hiccupped. He took a few hesitating steps towards the door, and then closed the distance in a rush, tearing the door open. "Professor Snape," he said, relief, anxiety, and a not entirely successful effort at sounding level-headed mixing oddly in his voice.
A small phial was handed over through the gap, and Arcturus was already hoping that he wouldn't be exposed to the disgusting sight of the greasy man. Yet, the door creaked open, and with a swish of his billowing robes, the man slipped into the room. Arcturus quelled a sigh, torn between repulsion and curiosity. Right, Snape, that's how the boy had called him; Arcturus now remembered having overheard several arguments downstairs, and rather enjoying the man's scathing remarks that bore witness of a sharp mind - until he first saw him, saw, for Merlin's sake, his underwear when he undressed for the night's sleep in this very room. He didn't look any different today, all clad in black, his robe un-ironed and greasy, his face pasty, with deep creases between his nostrils and the corners of his mouth as if he'd been concentrating on feeling bitter his entire life. Good Lord, did the elves ever wash his hair?
The boy, withdrawing to the middle of the room and determinedly not shuffling his feet, provided quite a contrast to him. He too was pale, almost unhealthily so, and huddling himself into a black robe at least two sizes too wide for his slim frame. His face, though, pointy and sharp-angled, was vivid with emotions he was desperately trying to hide, and the sensation of familiarity Arcturus had felt at his first glimpse at the boy intensified.
He had to be about 17 or 18 years of age, although his resolutely unflinching demeanour, his stuck-out chin and pursed lips made him look younger and somehow vulnerable. His most striking feature was his hair, a shimmering, whitish blond, and Arcturus became downright angry with himself for not remembering where - Narcissa! He almost called out the name aloud, satisfied that he'd eventually come up with the right association. The charming little girl, his grandnephew's daughter, a golden dot in an otherwise monochromatically black family - he remembered her develop into a swan-like, delicate beauty, so unlike her sisters, hiding her stubborn will behind a compliant appearance and a disarming smile.
And of course he knew whom she'd been married off to! A scene flashed through his mind - Narcissa's elder sister, that wild, impetuous woman, the most Black-ish of them all, ranting endlessly about 'that poncy git with his polished fingernails'. He recalled wondering back then whether young Narcissa had really succeeded in hooking herself someone more prestigious than the handsome yet otherwise unremarkable Lestrange her sister had married. And yes, she absolutely had – the only Malfoy heir could indeed be called a triumphant catch.
Feeling a rush of pride at having remembered, Arcturus eyed the boy with renewed interest. Yet he'd missed a part of the conversation, and, annoyed with himself for dwelling on the past for too long, he pricked his ears, trying to understand what the boy was on about.
"…you're in on it as well," the boy said, provoking an irritated sigh and rolling eyes from the greasy man.
"I would've thought that the past months' incidents have left no doubt whatsoever as to where my priorities lie," he replied, "and it'd seemed to suit you, as far as I could tell, hadn't it?"
The boy pressed his lips together in a stubborn line, as if he were trying not to blurt out something mortifyingly true. "I wouldn't judge your decisions," he said coolly, condescendingly enough to immediately recognise him as a Malfoy, yet a fire was burning in his grey eyes. Interesting indeed, Arcturus thought, the Blacks' passion and the Malfoys' arrogance united in a lanky boy; finally, there was someone in the house who'd be able of establishing the old standards. Maybe he could even order - ask him to hang him back into the-
"Draco," the older man said with a tinge of care to his low voice, "I'd rather you not give me cause for concern, okay?" He took a few steps towards the boy who gazed blankly at him, and Arcturus wasn't sure whether he'd really seen the boy wipe the back of his hand quickly over his eyes.
"I assure you that there's no need for you to worry about me," Draco replied haughtily, but lowered his chin a bit.
The man - no, Snape, Arcturus repeated to himself, he'd better remember the names now since he was determined to follow the events more closely - Snape raised a brow at Draco and nodded. "I know. I'm also sure that you're sensible enough to understand that we had good reason for bringing you here. I-" he drew in a deep breath, his face contorting, as if he was about to say something that was difficult for him. "I ask you to trust me, Draco. Look, it's possible that I won't be around much-" His voice ebbed away, and he ran a hand over his forehead.
Draco didn't react to that, but Arcturus saw his fingers clench briefly and his shoulder sag a bit. Yet the boy held his ground, he squared his shoulders and looked his opposite right in the eye. "If my mother is hurt because of-" he made a wide, all-encompassing gesture, his eyes blazing, pink blotches high on his cheeks, "because of this, I'll kill Potter, and believe me, this time I won't fail."
"Draco, I don't-" The boy shook his head, and Snape fell silent, a hint of sympathetic understanding in his eyes. Resentment surged up within Arcturus. How dare that paltry fellow think he'd any right to commiserate with a Black?
Draco appeared to brace himself. "Professor, am I confined to this room?" He snorted derisively. "I bet I am, Potter wouldn't have the courage to let me run free, now would he, and I bet Granger was delighted about digging up insurmountable wards." His eyes were sparkling with temper, and Arcturus felt a rush of pride.
"That is not my decision to make. Now be sensible and drink the draught I brought you. It'll provide you with a good night's sleep. Good night."
"Good night, Professor."
Torn between an urge to address the boy the moment the door fell shut and a desire to find out whether it was a true Black's mould he was cast from, Arcturus moved to the utmost left, the farthest the frame of his painting allowed him to, peering hard at what the boy was doing.
Draco was gazing absentmindedly at the closed door, his fingers turning the phial over and over. Don't drink it! Arcturus shouted at him in his mind, and was about to actually voice his advice when the boy suddenly tensed up and hurled the tiny flask through the room. It burst at the wall only a few inches away from where Arcturus was, well, existing, and if he let his fancy full scope, he could even feel a spray against his cheek.
Interesting times ahead, Arcturus thought, deeply satisfied, and watched the boy undress for the night, revealing a pale and almost skinny body under his robes. At last, he rejoiced, a true Black was back in the house, and spent some delicious time on pondering whether to tell the others while steadfastly ignoring the wretched sobs that emanated from the curled-up bundle on the bed.
The early mornings, when the birds were outdoing one another with their songs and the mist of dawn was giving way to the rays of the sun, had always been the hardest time for Arcturus to endure. No other time of the day evoked such an ardent, almost painful longing to be allowed to reach out of his limited existence - those early mornings, when he, a dynamic, vibrant man, full of zest for life, used to rally his Hunting Crups and whip on his horse, enjoying the coolness of the air and the prospect of abundant quarry, with a lavish breakfast waiting for him upon his return, prepared by a crowd of servile house-elves.
Not once had he thought he'd regret his decision to greedily embrace – as his ancestors before him had – the chance of a prolonged existence; and he had not suppressed the cry of delight that had escaped him when his portrait had snapped into life the moment his mortal remains had drawn their last breath, and had ignored the gloating comments of his fellow portraits.
He'd even rejoiced in feeling the rough wool of the hunting garment rubbing against his skin and the cool muzzles of his Crups pressing against his calves. Little had he known then that these sensations were all but the last imprints of his vanishing self, more imagination than reality. He'd by now come to consider being caught in the clothes of his favourite occupation more a torture than an assistance in his new half-life, although he sometimes thought that he was, at least, better off here than hanging in his manor in the Cotswolds, where he'd spent the better part of his life; that, he thought, would be tantalising beyond endurance.
Boring, tedious, dull past imagination! Dying, really dying, entirely ceasing to exist seemed so much more desirable most of the time. Nothing of what he'd had in mind - to further oversee his family's destiny, to assist by word if not deed - had come true. His descendants, that ungrateful, miserable brood, had dared to disregard his precious advice as much as he, while still alive, had ignored those presumptuous meddlers, his ancestors.
His head cocked to one side, Arcturus narrowed his eyes at the lump on the bed across the room. A pale, bony arm protruded from under the blanket, dangling over the edge, and strands of light hair was spread over the pillow, capturing the still dim sunlight.
This was- he leaned his head back, biting back a scream of frustration. Images of people old and young, family and strangers, from both days and decades ago, flashed through his mind, and he felt panic rise inside him when he realised that he couldn't for the love of Merlin pick the right one. Were his ancestors right, was there really no escaping from being lost in time? Concentrating on how it had felt to breathe deep and slow, he fixed his eyes onto the brilliantly blond hair, and then tried to remember the sound of the person's voice.
Something important had happened yesterday, and he was unable to -
"Malfoy!" The rough wake-up call, combined with hammering on the door, caused the person to bolt up straight, and Arcturus's memories came back with a rush.
The boy was breathing heavily, startled out of what had probably been a rather unpleasant dream, if the almost harassed look on his pale face was something to judge by. Arcturus rolled his eyes - he did recall it correctly, didn't he, that the Malfoy boy had shown some courage yesterday?
He was on the verge of addressing him when the door was flung open and a boy of about the same age as Malfoy - Draco, he remembered triumphantly - dashed into the room.
"Malfoy," he hissed, his eyes shooting daggers, "are you deaf or what?"
"Actually, I'd rather be deaf and blind in your presence, Potter," Draco replied, ennui and condescension in tone and look, and Arcturus gave an approving nod and glanced at the other boy.
He might - might - from time to time suffer from lapses of memory, but that boy, with his odd scar and blazing green eyes, his black hair and awkward manners, wasn't likely to be forgotten. He'd been around much of late, yet Arcturus still remembered the first time he saw him, together with that traitor Sirius.
Furthermore, as if not knowing him was even possible, his glorious heroism-to-come being permanently rubbed under his unwilling nose, the boy designed to free the wizarding world from that ominous Dark Lord, whoever, actually, that may be. And everyone seemed to shepherd, care for, even fancy Potter (apart, perhaps, from that Snape bloke). Thus, Draco's unmistakably hostile attitude was definitely refreshing - as if a Black would ever be at the donating end of adoration!
Potter scowled at him, letting his eyes wander up and down the length of Draco's upper body, pausing briefly at a faint red line that run diagonally across his chest. Draco was about to reach for the blanket, but his hand stopped mid-way when the boys' eyes met, and he lifted his chin defiantly and got up from the bed. Arcturus felt the tension rise in the room, savouring its almost crackling intensity.
"Get dressed, Malfoy, we need to talk."
"Talk? You're joking, right? I haven't got the slightest idea what the two of us should talk about, unless it's you telling me that you're going to take me back home immediately!" Draco's voice had been rising a notch at the end, but now he drew a calming breath and glowered at Potter.
"Sure," Potter said with a compliant nod, "your wish is my command! You know, I'm only here to take your orders for breakfast, and -"
"Don't try to be funny, or, even worse, witty, Potter! It doesn't suit you, actually, it's so pathetic I don't even want to -"
"Pity it's no longer relevant what you want or not! Tell me, how's it like, not having anyone jump at your every whim?"
Draco gave a mirthless laugh. "A whim?" he snarled. "You think it's a whim that I'm striving against being kidnapped at wandpoint, being dragged out of my home by your goonies, having my wand taken away? Oh, yes, sure," he nodded, sarcasm dripping from his voice, his eyes flashing. "I've dedicated my life to opposing wildly against negligible inconveniences, like, abandoning my mother to an uncertain fate. How very whimsical of me, isn't it?"
Arcturus flinched a bit. Lovely Narcissa in danger?
Potter snorted. "It's not really our fault that your mother picked the side of a raving lunatic and a murderer, now is it?" He narrowed his eyes at Draco. "Besides, isn't her dear sister there to, ah, take care of her?"
Draco's cheeks flushed deeply with fury, his fists were clenched so tight that his knuckles were almost white. Between his gritted teeth, he ground out, "You should hope that she's well, because, I swear, if anything happens to her, if she's harmed ever so slightly, I will make you pay."
Potter glared at him, his lips pressed together, his chest heaving with the heavy, ragged breaths of rage, and Arcturus greedily looked forward to the explosion to come. Yet, surprisingly, the blaze in Potter's green eyes subsided a little bit, and he turned away from Draco as if the wall of scorn and hatred he was facing was suddenly too much for him to bear.
"We had to get you to here, and this was the only way," he said in a calmer voice yet casting Draco a sardonic glance, "since I severely doubt that you would've come with us if we'd asked nicely."
"You bet," Draco hissed. He was pacing up and down along the wall, his pyjama trousers clinging loosely to his bony hips. He wrapped his arms around his bare chest and stopped, leaning his forehead against the wall. His shoulders sagged a bit, and Arcturus saw him draw in shallow breaths. When he turned to face Potter, who was eyeing him distrustfully, a look of constrained calmness had been forced onto his face.
"Look, Potter," he said, his voice wavering only so much, "I don't know what you want of me, so why don't you just tell me, and I tell you, and we'll all be happy and spared each others' sight?"
Potter stared at him, his black brows drawn together like some furry caterpillars moving towards each other. He obviously wasn't sure what to make of Draco's conciliatory tone. Arcturus smiled smugly.
"Don't think you can fool me, Malfoy," Potter said, still frowning.
"Wouldn't think of it," Draco interjected, shaking his head in consternation as if confronted with an inconceivable idea.
"A-ha. Funny, really. Yet I can assure you that we've made provisions," he flashed Draco a somewhat malicious grin, "so don't get any silly ideas."
"Has anyone ever told you that paranoia is a curable illness? I'm sure there are Potions against it, yet," Draco smirked, "you might want to ask Granger about it."
Potter looked as if he was about to retort sharply, yet merely rolled his eyes. He nodded towards the pile of clothes that was neatly placed onto the top of the old sycamore chest in the corner. At least, Arcturus thought, the elves were still functioning here.
"Get dressed," Potter said again, turning towards the door. "They're waiting for us downstairs already."
Draco sighed dramatically yet grabbed a white shirt and pulled it over his head. Wrapping his lean frame into an oversized robe and trotting after Potter, he burst out, "You're not letting me go afterwards, are you?"
Potter was already halfway through the door, but the words were nevertheless clearly audible.
"Perhaps. Depends on whether you tell us where the last Horcurx is, of course!"
The door fell shut, leaving Arcturus staring blankly at it, aghast. His mind was racing. A Horcrux? Who, for Merlin's sake, had been crazy enough to make a Horcrux?
With almost painful vividness he recalled his father's fury when he had found him and his sister Belvina delving among the Dark Arts books in the library. They were giggling over an illustration in a 15th century manuscript, showing a tall wizard towering over another figure and a raven-shaped something flying away from the first one, straight into the ruby of a golden necklace that was dangling from a tree. They'd been particularly amused by the unrealistic stiffness of the second figure which had its arms spread out in a odd angle and was more looking like an upright figure which the artist had by mistake drawn in a lying position. Belvina, who'd had to show her first signs of magic yet, had even shrieked with delight, her pretty face screwed up with laughter at the somewhat clumsy pictures, both of them being totally unprepared for their father's wrath that was about to be unleashed upon them.
Phineas Nigellus Black had snatched the book out of their hands, scornfully declaring that he'd never expected a behaviour like that from any son of his, and that it were better if Belvina, who was already hiccupping with sobs, never developed any magical skills at all since she obviously was prone to use them that stupidly. He then had bellowed the order that they should immediately withdraw to their rooms, and they'd fled.
Even now, after more than 100 years, Arcturus felt a shudder running down his back when he thought of that scene and the expression on his father's face. A few days later, when they had again dared to set foot into the library, accompanied by their eldest brother, they found the book removed to a secluded section of the library which was guarded by a Manticore.
It was not until several weeks later, when, to his great surprise, his father had summoned him and his brothers to the library to show them that very illustration and explain what was going on: that any stupid, misled wizard who would use that spell was about to bring disgrace upon his family, that he were, in fact, about to "scatter himself all over several places, and often in a very messy way, too."
"No wizard who knows what he owes to his name and family would ever think of using that spell - it is a spell used by people who have no home and no family to speak of, no children to carry on their names," he'd said, and it had been the first and had remained the only memory that Arcturus had of his father smiling at them.
A Horcrux! Had he, during the past years and decades, ever heard of a Horcrux being created? Hadn't there been an incident, decades ago, during the time he'd taken up the family's traditional seat at the Wizengamot?
He racked his brain. Snippets of all sorts of memories flashed through his mind, yet the more he tried to focus his mind, the more manifold the memories became, triggering all kinds of emotions. Pride at the first wobbly steps of his daughter Charis, satisfaction of having pulled the right strings at the Ministry to have that nitwit of Marcus Bones removed from his position, worry at a panicking young man pacing up and down in his room, frustration with his in-laws, those nouveau riche boors, anger at his brother, scorn, lust, hatred, amusement whirling together and blurring time and events into an indistinguishable mixture. He felt the familiar sensation of panic rising within him, and sank down onto the floor of his portrait, impatiently shoving away one of his Crups that had started licking his face.
Loud, angry voices outside the room startled him, and with a twinge of fright he realised that, given the bright light of midday, he must've fallen asleep.
"It's no use digging your heels in, Draco" a rather level-headed voice rose over the bellows and hisses, "since the information-"
The door creaked open, and Draco rushed into the room, breathing heavily.
"-is really crucial to us." A slim-built man in shabby robes entered after Draco, reaching out one arm towards him.
Draco whirled around. "What an incredibly convincing argument, Professor," he said, his voice dripping with sneer especially on the last word. "I'd be so very glad to be of any assistance to you, yet alas, as I have frequently pointed out, you still haven't told me what's in for me!"
"What the fuck do you take me for, Malfoy?" Potter had stormed into the room, followed by - oh God, no! - one of the Weasley spawns, displaying the usual cacophony of red hair, crimson face and brown freckles. What a disgusting brood they were, Arcturus had to close his hurting eyes.
"You really up to an answer to that, Potter?" Draco spat, rising his fists.
"He's just being an arsehole as usual," the Weasley creature scoffed, "what did you expect from him?"
"Ron, Harry, please," the older man - he did look familiar, and Arcturus cursed his memory for failing him yet again - interjected, his wary, tired face screwing up as if in pain. "We're all worked up now, we'd better have lunch and calm down a bit."
No one paid his pathetic attempts at placating the situation any heed. Draco took a step in Weasley's direction, squaring his shoulders. "I for sure won't waste any time talking to you, Weasel, since I'd have to translate every single statement of mine into idiot-speech, now won't I?"
Rigid with indignation, Arcturus held his breath when he saw - what had Draco called him? a Weasel? - when he saw the Weasel clench his fists and leap towards Draco.
He concentrated, projecting all his powers into his voice. "Don't you dare lay your unworthy hands on him, you filthy creature!"
The effect of his thundering, sonorous voice was most gratifying. Four heads turned towards him with a jolt, and four pair of eyes stared at him in various states of shock. Potter and Weasel, who'd been nearest, with their backs to him, even jumped a bit, and Draco drew in a quick breath and then narrowed his eyes at him as if pondering over a new idea.
Potter was the first to recover. "Oh no, not another one," he sighed, rolling his eyes. "That bloody house, everywhere you go, you stumble across one of these idiots."
The Weasley boy grinned. "Maybe we should let Fred and George deal with those portraits. I'm sure they'd come up with pretty cool stuff."
Potter chuckled. He had, Arcturus thought with an angry twitch, already struck him as conceited and overly self-assertive from the very first time he'd laid eyes on him, but he'd never realised what an impertinent little sod he was!
"I bet they would," Potter said now, grinning smugly. "Yet, I probably should just tell Kreacher to store them all up in the attic. Have them out of the way, y'know. They're," he shook his head as if in disbelief. "They're really dead annoying."
"You ignoble prat," Arcturus hissed. "Try and put your foul fingers onto one of us, and you'll live to regret the very day!"
A choked sound drew his attention towards the French window. Draco was standing there, his expression having changed from fuming with rage to almost mischievous amusement. A wicked grin was on his face - was the boy spurring him on?
"What's the bloke babbling on about," that Weasley creature said, his hideously freckled face screwed up in what he obviously believed to be a disgusted sneer. Arcturus would've laughed at him had he not been seething with wrath.
Potter shrugged. "Search me. They're all nuts, as far as I'm concerned."
"That's because you have no idea what the wizarding world is really about, Potty, and most likely never will," Draco interjected in scathing tones.
A snort came from Potter. "Oh, I do understand what the likes of you are up to, believe me, Malfoy! If you can't murder or torture someone, you'll-"
Arcturus couldn't contain himself. "Don't you dare speak like that to a member of the Black family! You should be grateful for being allowed entrance into this noble house, and not-"
An outburst of laughter from Potter and Weasley silenced him, and he stared at the two boys who were splitting their sides laughing. Honestly, no manners at all. But then, a Weasley, there was nothing to expect anyway; and as far as he remembered, no member of the Potter family had ever succeeded in making themselves acquainted with even the most basic rules of socially acceptable behaviour.
"You're really one arrogant lot, you and your noble ancestors," Potter scoffed. "I bet you'd care to enlighten him" - he stabbed at Arcturus' portrait with his chin, and Arcturus champed with rage - "as to who the legitimate owner-"
"Harry, Ron," the voice of reason interfered, and the slim, shabbily dressed man walked over to the boys and placed his hands on their shoulders, placating them. "Leave it, please. We've - no, really - it's been a stressful morning. I'm sure Hermione is already back from Hogwarts, why don't you check whether she's found out anything new?"
Both boys were clearly about to reply something, yet obviously thought the better of it. Arcturus grinned as he saw the tiny sulk on both of their faces as they toddled off.
The shabby man turned to face Draco who scowled at him and demonstratively stared out of the window. Arcturus suppressed a grin. He now recalled having seen the older man time and about, most often together with that insult to the eyes, Snape. Yet, although he at last seemed to wash his hair, this one could not really be considered an improvement, what with his threadbare jacket and his mismatch of shirt and trousers - honestly, was keeping up some standards in style really asked to much of modern wizardkind?
"I've got nothing to say to you, Professor Lupin," Draco said, but Arcturus' fine ears detected a trace of uncertainty in the boy's otherwise steady voice.
The other man must've sensed it, to, for he took an - albeit hesitant - step closer and smiled gently. "I know this must be a horrible situation for you, Draco, but believe me, we -"
"Oh, have we eventually arrived at the moment when you're going to assure me that it's all for my own good?" Draco threw his head back and snorted. "I even give you credit that you believe what you're claiming, but I tell you what - I'm not interested in any of your- your hypocritical-" to his obvious embarrassment, his voice had begun to shake uncontrollably, and he broke off, drawing a deep, steadying breath.
Lupin remained on the spot and his light, somewhat yellowish brown eyes were aimed at Draco not without understanding. He nibbled briefly at his lower lip, an oddly youngish thing to do for a man his age, and eventually said, gentle and a tad warily, "You know that I'm about to get engaged to your cousin?"
Draco turned around, frowning. "My cousin? Which- oh, Tonks!" He snorted. "What a fine catch!"
Tonks? Arcturus sighed. He was dead sure he'd heard the name before, years before, actually, yet-
"I guess I should embrace you now, welcome you in the family?" Draco's tone had taken on an icy, condescending edge, and Arcturus cast him an approving glance. Tonks. Where and when had he-
Lupin's shoulders sagged a bit. "No, I don't expect that of you, of course. But you should just know that I-"
"But I do," Draco interrupted, venom and mock-rejoicing mixing equally in his voice. "I'm actually over the moon at the prospect of having a werewolf in the family, and-"
They both startled violently, whirling around to him, and Lupin rolled his eyes.
"A werewolf?" Arcturus seethed. "This is outrageous! I oppose that! I-"
Lupin turned away, a sad smile on his face. "I guess you'd better cover that painting, or you won't be able to have a quiet moment otherwise."
"I'd rather be in his presence than in any of yours," Draco retorted immediately, scowling. "At last, he is family."
To Arcturus' surprise, Lupin chuckled. "Draco," he said, turning back as if the idea had just occurred him, "you said - before the three of you went at each other's throat - that you'd consider helping us if we'd do something for you. What would that be?"
Draco stared at him, working his lower lip nervously. With a mirthless laugh, he eventually said, "You really have to ask, haven't you? I want my mother out of there. Once my mother is safe, I'll tell you what you want to know."
"If you don't talk to me soon, I'll fall asleep for the next, say, fortnight, and your chance will be gone."
"What?" Draco looked up from his bed to which he had withdrawn to after picking at the lunch Kreacher who was brimming over with joy and servility had brought him. He'd spent some time kicking and hammering at the door and had hurled his pillow across the room in a passionate burst of scorn, and had searched every inch of the room for a possibility to escape.
To Arcturus' surprise (and indignation) Draco hadn't, as he'd actually expected him to, turned to him immediately after that Lupin bloke had left the room; even more so, he hadn't even deigned to look at him. Huffed, Arcturus had remained silent, moreover, he had with a slight dismay found it somewhat difficult, if not impossible, to address the boy himself. A queasy feeling had crept up from the pit of his stomach - the outbursts only a few minutes ago had come naturally to him, he had spoken without being even conscious of it. Yet as of then, he seemed unable to focus his concentration to a sufficient level that would enable him to articulate the thoughts that were scurrying to and fro inside his brain, and the more he tried, the more frantic his mind grew.
Uttering that one sentence had been an incredible effort, and his mind yelled at the boy to continue talking to him.
Fortunately, Draco seemed to have some sense in him. "What," he said again, sitting up, "what should we talk about?"
Arcturus sighed. "How about telling me what this is all about," he said, forcing gentleness into his voice although he'd rather have grabbed the boy's shoulders and given him a decent shake.
Draco eyed him warily. "I don't even know who you are. I mean, I suppose you're a Black, but otherwise I've to admit that I have no idea whatsoever as to who you are."
Arcturus did his best to plaster a benign smile onto his face. "Of course I am a Black, and therefore your ancestor, my boy. I am Arcturus, your - let me think - great-great-granduncle."
Draco chuckled. "Wow," he said, yet seemed still rather disinclined to engage into a conversation for his eyes drifted towards a pile of books.
Playing his trump card, Arcturus said nonchalantly, "You're looking for a Horcrux, aren't you?"
The effect was stunning, more than he'd hoped for. Draco jumped off his bed with an outcry and stormed towards him, all but stumbling over his discarded robes.
"What do you know about it," he gasped. "You must tell me! I," he propped his hands up against the wall and briefly placed his forehead into their fold as if feeling giddy, then looked up to Arcturus. "Oh god, I'm so glad you know about it. How- how come that- oh whatever. Where is it, how can I find it, when-"
Arcturus stared at the Draco's eager face which was brimming with relief and elation, and felt a rush of annoyance wash over him, not sure whether it was directed at the over-zealous boy or - a twinge of remorse stirred in his guts - at himself for deluding him so badly.
"What makes you think I know anything about the Horcrux in question," he said testily, and watched with irritated sympathy as Draco's face fell.
"You- don't-?" the boy gulped, his head hanging, but when he raised it again, there was a look of fury on his face that made one of Arcturus' Crups whine and hide behind his master's legs.
"What the fuck are you playing at," Draco hissed. "Do you think it's funny to tease me, are you so bored that-" He rose his fist against the painting, and Arcturus felt secretly glad that Draco had no wand at hand.
"Boy, boy, now calm down. There's no need going wild. I- I'm positive I can help you."
Draco snorted and shrugged, yet stood transfixed.
"There is a Horcrux involved, isn't it? I gather that they brought you here against your will?"
Draco nodded, and his eyelashes fluttered briefly from suppressed feelings. "They somehow gained entrance into our Manor, I've no idea how they managed to overcome our wards, and I was Stupefied and Apparated side-along before I even realised what was going on. They-" his voice faltered a bit, "they must've known that my mother was away."
"That barbarian horde, that lot of Muggle lovers, eternal shame on them! And what do they want from you?"
"I don't know," Draco mumbled, his eyes no longer seething with rage but wide and full of anxiety. "They- they say I have vital information, information to bring Voldemort down." He spat out the name, and Arcturus did his best to hide that he, actually, had no idea whom the boy was talking about.
"And I understand that you, in fact, have no information whatsoever-?"
Draco's expression closed, and he cast Arcturus a distrustful glance. Yet (fortunately, Arcturus thought) the urge to tell someone, to talk overwhelmed him, and he burst out, "No, I don't! I have no idea what they were talking about! They said something about this Horcrux, and I don't even know-" Draco's voice rose to a squeak, and he broke off, flushing crimson. He leaned against the window, pressing his hot cheek against the cool glass, while outside the bright midday sun was pouring through the gaps between the houses.
"You don't even know what a Horcrux is, do you?" Arcturus finished his sentence, and Draco nodded, lifting his head up to him and looking alarmingly like a frightened, desperate child.
"There's no doubt then that I will be of use to you. Tell me everything you know and I'll-"
The door was flung open, and Potter stood on the threshold, a disgusted sneer on his face. What an impetuous, unbridled twerp he was, and no manners to speak of. The expression on Draco's face closed immediately, and he turned away.
"Can't you knock?" Arcturus asked huffy, glaring at Potter. "It's not as if the house were yours, young man."
Inexplicably, this amused Potter. Badly brought up and an idiot, it seemed.
"Shacklebolt will be here within the next hour, so be prepared for another interrogation. I don't suppose you've seen reason in the meantime and release the information willingly?"
"You wish, Potter," Draco said curtly, and picked up a book from the pile, demonstratively leafing through the pages.
Potter's eyes sparkled. "Go on like that, Malfoy, if you must. Alastor Moody's bound to return the day after tomorrow, and he will make you talk, won't he?"
Draco remained motionless but Arcturus saw a flick of - what? Worry, fear? cross his face. "I'm looking forward to it. Now leave, will you?"
Potter showed no sign of complying. "You can't be seriously thinking we won't get the information we want. Why don't you spare us-"
"I said leave, Potter!"
"Stop ordering me around in my house, you wanker! I'll stay here as long as I want to and you've no-"
It took Arcturus a few seconds to digest what he'd heard - he had heard it, hadn't he? He didn't start hearing odd voices like his poor brother Cygnus? - but once he'd convinced himself that it had been real, he found it unable to contain himself.
"Your house?" he thundered. "Your. House?" It couldn't be - but then, hadn't there been gossip about Kreacher being sent to Hogwarts because he now belonged to a non-Black, hadn't rumour had it that all those annoying simpletons, Weasleys and grimy men, and werewolves that were lingering in the house were entitled to do so because- No, it was unthinkable, absurd even. Admittedly, he hadn't been paying much attention, being too absorbed in recalling what it was like to be on horseback, galloping across the fields, yet, he would have realised that profound a change, wouldn't he?
"Fucking hell, that bloke's annoying!" Potter closed the distance with a few strides and reached for his portrait. "Do you mind if I, um, switch him off?" he asked in a mock-polite, overly sweet voice, and Arcturus spluttered with rage.
"For Merlin's sake, leave him alone, he's just a painting!"
Arcturus bristled and scowled into Potter's face who stared up to him, examining him closely. What he saw, Arcturus knew, was a tall, gorgeously built man, upright and sublime, donned in a hunting gear as resplendent as it befitted his status, a long green velvet jacket along with a sash over a matching waistcoat, richly embroidered in silver and ornate with silver buttons bearing the Black family crest, and knee-high leather boots that accentuated his well-trimmed muscles. Three of his favourite Crups had been portrayed with him, and they were bustling around his legs, sniffling and growling and baring their teeth.
Awe-inspiring, downright overwhelming for a boorish person like this boy, and Arcturus whirled his whip around his wrist for good measure.
But the boy's eyes were glued to his face, taking in every detail of the narrow, almost lean features, the dark, slightly slant eyes and the aquiline nose, the thin-lipped yet sensuous mouth and the thick raven-black hair which was caught back in his neck and with a leather queue.
A curious expression flickered across Potter's face, mournful yet affectionate, and Arcturus thought he'd heard him mumble a name.
"Done with your rude staring?" he snarled, cocking an eyebrow at him.
Potter startled, shrugged and turned away, back to face Draco who'd resumed pretending to read.
"Lupin's told me what you want," Potter said, his voice thickly laced with contempt. "Seems it's not that comfortable around your precious Lord Voldemort after all, uh?"
"Stow it, Potter," Draco said amicably, only briefly raising his head from the book.
Potter clicked his tongue. "Tsk, tsk, you'd better not bite the hand that feeds you. Or we might decide that the information you have is not that valuable after all, and return you to your Master."
Arcturus saw the corners of Draco's mouth grow white. "Actually, anything'd be preferable to having to hang around here in your presence," he shot back, a factitious smile plastered on his face. "And no, please," he lifted his hand in a declining gesture, "don't bore me again with your 'simply tell us what we want to know' nonsense. You know my terms."
He gave Potter a curt nod and buried his nose again in the pages of the book, only the slight tremble of his fingers and the hunched-up shoulders betraying his tension.
Potter glared at him but took a few soothing breaths, and Arcturus would've bet everything that that Lupin bloke had instructed him beforehand. "See, Malfoy, let's be sensible."
Draco snorted yet lowered the book a bit.
"You can't seriously want Voldemort to win, now can you? After what-" Potter pressed his lips together, as if he was about to rattle off a speech he'd learnt by heart. "After what he's put. Put you through last year, and, um, he's not exactly been forthcoming as far as your father is concerned-" Potter's voice trailed off, and Arcturus, squinting, saw him dig his nails into the palms of his hands, his eyes glistening with loathing.
Draco stiffened. Although he still didn't turn around, Arcturus could tell that he was listening intently.
Like, ah, himself. However horrible that Potter nitwit and his gang of werewolves, redheads, and Mudbloods - not to forget the man-of-the-ghastly-underwear - might be, Arcturus found himself spellbound by the events their, and especially Draco's, presence had triggered, oddly concerned and detached at the same time.
Draco looked up languidly, a calculating glint in his eyes. "Are you asking me to switch sides?" he mumbled, sweet venom dripping off his voice.
Potter breathed heavily, and Arcturus wondered how much more it would need for the rage that was simmering close under the surface to erupt. "It'd not be the worst of all choices," he ground out.
"Brilliant. Kind of a decision between a rock and a hard place, wouldn't it be?" Draco chirped yet his eyes were like ice, shooting daggers at Potter.
"You," Potter gasped, and grinning satisfied, Arcturus looked forward to the explosion of his temper. "You can't. You can't possibly compare- That raving madman with his bunch of murderers, that-"
"And what do you do, Potter? You kidnap me, you hold me hostage against my will, you threaten to torture me-"
"Stop being such a drama queen, no one's threatened to torture you!"
Draco had jumped up, all pretence of reading and not listening and not caring forgotten. "What do you think Moody will do with me? What will you do with me, in the course of the following days if I don't bow to your will? Oh wait, I forgot, you're Saint Potter, so I'm probably in for an extended round of Exploding Snap, ain't I? Way to torture someone, especially if you include the Weasel!"
"You," Potter repeated, seething with rage. Arcturus sighed. Eloquence, manners, and brains - check. What a Saviour of the wizarding world. More or less self-appointed, it seemed, but still.
"You- you compare Voldemort and me- us," Potter spluttered. "You bastard!"
"You're right, you're not worthy being named together with the Dark Lord in the same breath," Draco hissed back yet sounded, surprisingly, more like a defiant and sulking child to Arcturus' ears than a young man defending his- who for Salazar's sake was that bloke they kept prattling on about?
Arcturus' frustration had now reached breaking point, superiority of the elders notwithstanding. "Whom are you talking about?" he bellowed, and was rewarded with their full attention.
Potter clamped a hand over his mouth in mock surprise. "What, you don't know-? Malfoy, does that mean that you let the opportunity slip to gush over your glorious Dark Lord and how he's destined to lead the likes of you to restored glory?"
"You know nothing about the likes of me, Potter! You think you can save us - or fight us, whatever you think to see fit - but you know nothing about us! Actually, come to that, you know nothing at all about the wizarding world itself! You and your know-it-all Mudblood, you think you can come here and-"
"Don't you dare call Hermione that!" Potter yelled, reaching out towards Draco as if he were about to lunge at him. "You and your I'm-better-than-any-of-you attitude, I've had it with it!"
"And better he is!" Arcturus shouted. "Generations of wizards have come together, their skills and power uniting and mounting, and not once soiled by a filthy Muggle!"
Potter whirled around and narrowed his eyes at Arcturus. "Is that so?" he snarled. "You should've taken better care of your precious offspring, then, considering whom they're following right now." He flashed a nasty grin and turned back to Draco who was glaring daggers at him.
"I bet your Master has skipped the detail about his Muggle father, now has he?"
Draco stared at him. "I don't believe you," he said bluntly. "He's the descendant of Salazar Slytherin, of a noble and ancient family."
"Sure," Potter said. "Dumbledore-" his tongue all but stumbled over the name, "showed me his maternal family. Noble indeed, what with their ramshackle hut and their ragged clothes and their insanity. Kind of appropriate for Slytherin's progeny, though."
Draco snorted. "You don't expect me to take your word for that, do you? For sure Slytherin's family wouldn't-"
"There are a lot of descendants of Salazar Slytherin around," Arcturus interrupted, sidetracked by wistful memories of his genealogy-mad cousin, "many of the pureblood families trace their roots back to at least one of Slytherin's children. The Blacks, of course, and the-" he nodded at Draco, smiling, "the Malfoys, the Longbottoms-"
A sharp intake of breath interrupted him. Both boys stared at him, aghast. "You're joking, right?" Draco said sourly.
"Without doubt they are," Arcturus said, warming up to the topic, "and Ollivander, of course, and, hm, the Flints, my mother's family, and the Sykes, the Macmillans, the Fawcetts, oh, and the-"
"Yes, yes, we get the idea," Potter said, and "All right, all right, no need to reel off the entire list," Draco mumbled, waving him off, and Arcturus glared at both of them. That they agreed upon?
A frown appeared on Potter's face. "But Dumbledore told me that the Gaunts are the only living descendants of Slytherin."
"Well, he must've been referring to patrilineal descent, then, because- did you say the Gaunts?"
"Why, yes," Potter sneered, "don't tell me you don't know that noble family?"
"Of course I know the Gaunt family," Arcturus said, very much looking down on Potter while trying to hide his shock. "They're one of the oldest and most, ah, well-known families of the wizarding world."
And for a good reason, he thought. Good Lord, the Gaunts! Torturing and killing Muggles was all well and good, everyone needed a bit of amusement every now and then, but the Gaunts? So not bon ton, that crazed bunch, that disgrace to all pureblood families! Mar- what had been his name? Marvolo, right, Marvolo and Morfin Gaunt - he still remembered his mother's disgust over old Marvolo's table manners (or the lack thereof), and his father's tales of the wild and vicious boy he'd had to deal with as Headmaster. Both had died in Azkaban, hadn't they? But-
Arcturus knitted his brows in puzzlement. "I don't recall any further children."
"Lord Voldemort," Potter said, with an exaggerated emphasis on the Lord, "is the son of Merope Gaunt and Muggle Tom Riddle, who, by the way, was, along with his parents, Voldemort's first victim. But since they were Muggles, I guess that doesn't amount to much in your way of thinking, now does it?"
Draco, who'd been watching them intently, hissed a few unintelligible words at Potter but there was a pensive, calculating look in his eyes. Yet Arcturus paid him no heed, his mind was still busy recalling who the hell-
"By Merlin, the Squib girl?" Images of a hideously plain, dull girl flashed through his mind, and he shook his head to banish them, breathing heavy with agitation. His descendants weren't really following the son of a Squib and a Muggle?
Draco ran the back of his hand across his eyes and heaved a low sigh, looking harassed and so, so tired. "See, Potter, all I want is my mother to be safe."
Potter turned around to face him. He looked Draco square in the eyes for a few moments, and Draco returned the look, unblinking. Suddenly, the air between them was filled with all kinds of vibrations, buzzing with tension.
"I understand," Potter said in a calmer and more reasonable voice than ever before. "I can't promise you anything, but-"
They were interrupted by the door being flung open, and a girl Arcturus recalled having seen around the house - but who would forget that mane of bushy hair and that dogmatic demeanour? - entered the room.
Arcturus seized the chance and beckoned Draco over to him who, albeit reluctantly, obeyed to his gesture. "The Gaunts," he whispered. "That's bad blood, my boy. By all means, stay away from them!"
Draco nodded absent-mindedly, his eyes glued to Potter, and Arcturus had the distinct feeling that the brat hadn't paid any attention whatsoever to his advice. Have it your way, then.
"They," she said, her voice heavy with tears. "They. Our team has returned. Oh Harry, it's terrible."