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Repost: Stray, Chapter One: Home - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Repost: Stray, Chapter One: Home
As I started this story nearly two years and a couple of unnecessary deaths ago, I thought, if I mean to finish it up (and having it sitting there unfinished has been bothering me), I should re-post the chapters I've already written, fixing any canon problems as I go. There wasn't too much to fix in this opening chapter, actually, so I just tweaked some phrases I thought were unclear.

Everyone in Diagon Alley knew the Black brothers, and most liked them. Their parents didn't care to have them underfoot during the day, so they spent many an hour with pockets full of gold, running from shop to shop, playing games with one another because they weren't allowed to play with anyone else. Occasionally, their older cousins would come along to watch them, but more often than not, it was just the pair of them.

The older boy had a kind of infectious exuberance at being outside, and, though no one would have said it to him, the people who had any experience with the family knew that he had good reason for it. Many of the adults looking indulgently down on him had memories of escaping his mother, Walburga, at Hogwarts, where she'd spent seven years running roughshod over anyone in her way, and they privately doubted that she'd been at all mellowed by motherhood. She certainly had shown no signs of it in her public feuding with the Ministry, the governors of Hogwarts, the proprietors of several shops, the conductor of the Knight Bus, and most of the indigent population of London. What normal child wouldn't be glad to be free of her, mother or not?

The younger boy often seemed a bit frightened of his brother's manic energy, but he was unfailingly polite and courteous to the elderly witches and wizards who spent their days playing draughts at Florean Fortescue's. He loved to listen to their stories of days before he was born, and their dealings with members of his family they had known in their youth. He would tell anyone who asked that he had to share a room with a portrait of Phineas Nigellus, in the hope of hearing a Hogwarts story from those who had been students during his tyrannical reign as Headmaster.

The shopkeepers allowed them many indulgences, some because of the family's long patronage and deep involvement in politics, but most for the simplest of reasons--they brought joy and surprises into the tedium of everyday adult life. For this, they were allowed to pretend to shop for expensive items they would never buy, play with merchandise that hadn't been purchased yet (though most had accounts with the boys' taciturn father, Orion Black, and particular favorites were generally recommended as presents), and run through cafés and book shops playing endless games of chase and hide-and-seek. Like most such adults, the businesswizards and businesswitches of Diagon Alley thought they understood the childhood they were observing with such great fondness, and--also like most such adults--they were more wrong than right, but they wouldn't come to understand that for many more years.

So when nine-year-old Sirius Black ran through Beldon's Book Shop (Used And New Spellbooks For All Your Magical Needs!), winking and holding his finger over his mouth to indicate silence, they nodded wisely, and assumed that seven-year-old Regulus knew the rules of the game, and was having as much fun, in his understated way, as his brother.

At first, Regulus was happy enough to go along with this. If he told Sirius he was frightened of being alone in the crowded shopping area, he'd certainly be teased for it--Sirius wasn't frightened of anything, and Regulus wanted very desperately to be like him in this matter. So he had agreed to the game of his own free will, and sat on a bench near the gate from the Leaky Cauldron, closing his eyes, counting to one hundred in French (this was a rule of the way they played that neither had ever questioned), and letting Sirius disappear into the noisy crowd. He had even smiled as the game began, poking his head into a curious little used clothing shop to see if the owner looked like she might be hiding a nine-year-old among the moldy old robes. He was still smiling when he got to Beldon's, but already, the world seemed too large for him, the voices too loud and the colors too bright. By the time he'd got through Flourish and Blotts, he could no longer find a smile, and when he reached Fortescue's it was all he could do not to burst into tears as he asked the old wizards playing chess if they'd seen his brother at all.

"You know," Fortscue said, "you might do better to play games together, rather than separately."

Regulus forced the corners of his mouth up. "We like hide-and-seek."


"Oh, boys will be boys," Herbert Bulstrode said. "Can't be safe all the time!"

The old men laughed.

Shaking, Regulus backed away. "I... I'd best find him... before... before time is up! He may run back to the Leaky Cauldron before I find him!" The thought filled him with great glee--of course, the rule was to run back home before the seeker found you. Sirius would do that. He would win, but that would be all right, if he was just sitting on the bench, pretending to nap. It would be perfectly lovely.

Regulus ran back toward the Leaky Cauldron at full tilt, certain that Sirius would be there, ready to take his teasing for as long as necessary, just wanting to see his face.

He rounded the corner. The bench was empty.

"Sirius?" he called. "I give up! You win! You can come out!"

There was no answer.

He bit his lip. His hands were shaking now, and his heart seemed to be beating just behind his tongue. He leaned back into the used clothing shop.

"Still not here, love," the witch at the counter said.

Regulus nodded and backed out of the shop. A man towered over him, waving a walking stick and growling to get out of his way. He did so, only to run into a woman he thought might be a hag. He slipped away from her long fingers and threw himself down a side street, paying no attention to where he was going. It was dark and dismal, and people were selling things that smelled rather bad, like the ingredients in Mum's "special" potions. Many of the doors he tried were locked. He ran helter-skelter down the center of the cobblestone street, calling for his brother, and could barely see where he was when he ran flat out into a solidly built wizard whose face seemed to have quite a lot of scars.

"What's this now?" the wizard asked.

As Regulus pulled away, he saw a badge flash on an inside pocket of the man's cloak. An Auror. Mum didn't like Aurors, but Regulus had read stories, and they were always solving mysteries. His control let go, and he let out a great wail. He could feel the tears on his cheeks. "MY BROTHER IS HIDING AND I CAN'T FIND HIM ANYWHERE AND CAN YOU HELP ME?"
The Auror bent over and looked at him through narrowed eyes. "You're one of the Black boys, aren't you?"

"Yes, sir. Regulus. I can't find my brother!"

"I got that part." The Auror stood up and looked around. "Well, I haven't got anything else pressing just now, so I think I can help you out." He held out one gnarled-looking hand. "Moody," he said.

Regulus gulped down air, trying to calm himself down. "Th-thank you, Mr. Moody," he said. "We were only playing."

"Your mum and dad shouldn't let you play alone down here," he said. "Dangerous. Do you know where you are?"

Regulus neither knew nor cared. "He didn't come home. To the bench--home. That's the rule."

"Well, let's see what we can make of him," Moody said. He pulled something out of his pocket, a little tin compass that didn't have directions marked on it. As Regulus watched, the names of several shops appeared at points around the side. "Sirius Black," Moody grunted.

The needle spun, hovered at Beldon's, then moved on to a little joke shop Sirius liked called Puck's Pandemonium. It stuck there. Regulus marveled. His heart slowed a bit. "He's really at Puck's?" he asked.

"Looks that way." Moody put one heavy hand on Regulus's shoulder and started to lead him out of the dingy little alley.

"I looked there, but I didn't see him." Regulus tripped along, trying to keep up. "Will that show you where anyone at all is? Is that how you catch Dark Wizards?"

"Only shows me people who don't know how to hide," Moody said. "Or innocent people who don't think they have to." He steered Regulus around a corner, and they came out in front of Puck's. He didn't hesitate before leading Regulus inside. "Goodfellow," he said to the man behind the counter, "you've got this boy's brother in here."

Goodfellow shrugged. "I wouldn't be much in my business if I interrupted boys' games."

Moody rolled his eyes. "Accio!" he yelled, and the cloths from all of the shop's tables flew to him. Sirius was hiding under a display of trick cauldrons.

Regulus ran to him. "I won't tag you," he said. "Mr. Moody really found you."

Sirius crawled out, lips pursed in irritation. "You called an Auror?"

"Happened to find me, is more what happened," Moody said. "You weren't where you were meant to be."

"Mum'll have a spitting hippogriff!"

"I'm going to have a long-overdue talk with Walburga," Moody said.

Both boys recoiled. "Er, I think that's not a good idea..." Sirius tried.

"Didn't ask. I reckon it's time for the pair of you to get home. Get your things. I'll take you by Muggle taxi."

Normally, this novelty would have interested Regulus (and he thought that it might still interest Sirius, whose skin was a bit green looking, but whose eyes were dancing, just the tiniest bit, at the prospect), but the thought of arriving home in a Muggle taxi with an Auror made the world go black and cold. He looked at Sirius. Sirius gave him a helpless sort of shrug.

Moody bundled them out through the Leaky Cauldron and signaled for a taxi. He grunted while he searched his pocket for Muggle money, and herded the boys into the back seat. "We're going to Grimmauld Place," he said.

The driver gave him a dubious look--Muggles treated it like a bad neighborhood, which made Regulus's ears burn with shame--but pulled off Charing Cross Road and started on their way.

"I'm sorry," Regulus whispered to Sirius. "I couldn't find you. You were meant to come home to the bench. That's the rule. You were meant to come home."

Sirius gave him an exasperated frown. "It was only ten minutes," he said. "I thought I'd give you a bit more time before I came out, so you could win for once."

Ten minutes? To Regulus, it had seemed at least a day. "Oh," he said.

Sirius grabbed him by the neck and mussed up his hair. "Stupid git." He lifted his head and looked around quickly--to make sure Moody was looking somewhere else, Regulus guessed--then roughly kissed Regulus's head.

Regulus pummelled him with light punches to his side, but didn't attempt to get out of the lock around his neck. The driver gave them an irritated glance over the back of his seat, but Moody seemed not to realize that, as the adult, he was meant to keep them from doing this sort of thing.

"Look at that," Sirius said, pointing out the window at a young girl a bit older than they were who was balancing on boots with some sort of wheels on them. Her hair was tied up high, with a bright scarf in it. While they watched, she fell, and a boy Regulus took to be her brother caught her, and they both laughed. "I want to try that," Sirius said.

"Catching her?"

"The bit with the boots."

"I'd rather ride a--"

Regulus's throat closed up on the word "broomstick," and he looked over to see Moody giving him a warning look. The driver was looking at them with great interest now, glancing up into the mirror mounted up front to take them in.

"You're, er... in a choir?" he asked. "The robes? Are you in a choir in that church down at Grimmauld Place?"

"Yes," Sirius said. "Regulus sings soprano. I--"

He was cut off by a wave of Moody's wand, and a flash of light, after which the driver turned back to the road with a disinterested look on his face, humming a nonsense sort of song. Regulus heard Moody mutter, "...'ve Transfigured the robes..." Sirius was unusually quiet for the rest of the ride.

The taxi pulled up to the square and Moody said, "This'll be fine, I reckon." He fished out the right sorts of money and gave it to the driver, then got the boys out. "All right," he said. "How are you meant to get in?"

Sirius gestured and made a frustrated face.

Moody waved his wand. "Sorry, boy, but I don't reckon anyone's taught you what to say in mixed company."

"Over there," Sirius said and started for the little gate that Dad had put in, which looked like a decrepit bit of ironmongery from the street, but which opened into Mum's little sculpture garden, which had tiny, moving stone dragons prowling among the flowers near the front steps. He was always doing something about better security, which was probably why it was only when they were on the other side of the magical barrier that Sirius could say, "Of course we know how to talk to Muggles! We live right next door to them!"

"So why are you out in robes in the first place?"

"Mum doesn't like it when we wear Muggle clothes," Sirius said. "I want blue jeans, though."

"Well, you should get some before you go wandering about. You both stick out like... well, rich boys in a bad neighborhood."

"I'd rather--" Sirius began, but stopped, his face losing all of its color as the front door opened.

Mum was a thin woman, but she filled up the whole door perfectly well, her elbows jutting out in sharp corners as her long fingers dug into her hips. Her nose was flaring, her eyes flicking back and forth between her sons and the Auror standing with them.

"What," she said, her eyes finally landing on Moody, "are you doing at my home? Alastor Moody, isn't it? I trust my boys have not broken any of your petty little rules and regulations."

"Well, Bugga," Moody said, "I found the littler one wandering around Knockturn Alley, but I believe him when he says he was just lost. For now."

Mum's cheeks had gone alarmingly red in two high spots at the name Moody had called her. All she seemed able to say through her clenched teeth was, "Walburga. Or, preferably, Mrs. Black." Her eyes dropped down to Sirius, whose face was red for other reasons--his cheeks were puffed out and his mouth working as he tried not to laugh. "YOU! UPSTAIRS!" Mum screamed. "Both of you! Upstairs! How dare you bring an Auror here?"

"He brought us," Sirius protested.

"And just what did you do to make him do that?" Mum asked, rounding on him and taking a step forward. "What were you doing?"

"But it was--" Regulus said, but Sirius stomped on his foot.

"Sorry, Mum," he said. "I... er... I dared Regulus to go into Knockturn Alley. That's where Mr. Moody found him."

Mum squeezed her mouth even more tightly shut. "I'd gathered that," she hissed. "Upstairs. I'd had Kreacher fixing a special pudding for you, but I think you'll go without tonight." She looked back at Moody. "You may leave now."

"Oh, no," Moody said. "I think we're going to have a bit of a talk, Bugga." He reached into his robes and pulled out his badge.

Mum dug her fingers into Regulus's shoulder and tugged him toward the door, then gave him a shove inside. "Go upstairs with your brother," she said. "I'll have my conversation with Mr. Moody here. Kreacher's had enough to clean up today without his sort of filth fouling the house." She waved her wand with a great flourish, shoring up the defenses against the neighboring Muggles hearing what she had to say. Regulus had once come across the square, thinking Mum was happily chatting with Dad on the steps only to cross the barrier and find her screaming at top volume--with quite a lot of nasty words--at Sirius, who had found some sort of Muggle hat, which Mum had been shaking in his face like a dead snake.

"Come on."

Regulus looked up. Sirius was on the stairs, his finger over his mouth for quiet. "We can hear it from the drawing room."

Regulus looked over his shoulder at the door, which Mum had closed, then ran up the stairs after his brother.

By the time he reached the drawing room, where Mum kept the family tree surrounded by ever-burning candles, Sirius had shoved the sofa up against the window, and opened it just the tiniest bit. It was enough to hear Mum and Moody.

"You can't just let them wander," Moody was saying. "Everyone's seen them there."

"I hardly think we need to worry about danger from our own kind," Mum said. "They wouldn't dare lay a hand on my sons. They know they'd answer to me."

"If it was me," Sirius muttered, "they'd be answering, 'Oh, you're welcome.'"

"Don't be stupid," Regulus whispered.

"Bugga, much as it pains me to say it, there are more dangerous people than you running around these days--"

"How dare you use that name in front of my sons?"

"--and if you think being a pure-blood's any defense--"

"As the gentleman the Ministry's so quick to condemn is out to protect pure-bloods from the filth wandering around, I would think--"

"They already attacked one of the Potters. Your Aunt Dorea's sister-in-law. Bit of a nasty curse, too."

"The Potters are Mudblood-loving fools. They know we are not."

"Got something you want to share about that, Bugga?"

"If I did," Mum said, "I wouldn't. Why don't you Aurors"--she nearly spat the word--"put some energy toward clearing the rubbish that's actually doing considerable damage to the wizarding world?"


"That miserable Mudblood on the Wizengamot, for one," Mum said.

To Regulus's surprise, Sirius snorted laughter.

"Shh," he said. "Mum'll hear.

"It's just..." Sirius swallowed another laugh. "Mum's just tweaked because they told her she had to give up that flying carpet. And... Bugga..." He picked up a pillow from the sofa and laughed into it.

"It's not a very nice thing to say," Regulus said.

"Really?" Sirius said. "You think so?"

"Shh, she'll hear."

"Think it's not nice?" Sirius's hand snaked out, and suddenly, Regulus was twisting away from a tickling attack. "Not nice?"

"Stop it," Regulus hissed, trying not to laugh, trying to reach Sirius's ticklish spot, high on his left side. "Come on, she'll hear, and we're meant to be upstairs..."

Sirius found the tender spot behind his knee, and Regulus had to bite his hand to keep from shrieking laughter. He got away and twisted behind Sirius, finding the spot at the top of his right shoulder and giving it a good pinch. Sirius made a muffled kind of shriek and ducked off the sofa, running to the chair under the family tree. Regulus chased after him, but he was off like a shot, running for the kitchen, where there were hiding places everywhere. They chased one another through the dank corridors of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, faces red, trying not to scream with suppressed laughter, and the sound of their footsteps echoed and pounded through the air, through space, through time.

Half a world away and more than a quarter of a century later, Sirius Black awakened in warm darkness, the footsteps and muffled laughter of his hidden childhood still echoing in his skull.

I couldn't find you. You were meant to come home.

"No," he said to no one at all. "Not in a hundred years."

That's the rule. You were meant to come home.

He rolled over, looking out the strange window at the foreign moon, and refused to think about the subject any further.


54 comments or Leave a comment
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amamama From: amamama Date: March 12th, 2009 06:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Now I'm quite happy I haven't searched out this fic and read it before. Great start, and my heart goes out to Sirius and Regulus. And Bugga? Nasty piece of work. Not that that's a surprise.

But half a world away? Where is he?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 13th, 2009 05:54 am (UTC) (Link)
He's someplace where he can send the giant tropical bird he sends to Harry. :) (I'm thinking Recife, Brazil.)
izhilzha From: izhilzha Date: March 12th, 2009 06:52 am (UTC) (Link)
What fantastic timing! I'm doing a Potter re-read, my first since Deathly Hallows came out, and I just started reading Goblet! :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 13th, 2009 05:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Cool! I'll be doing that as well.
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: March 12th, 2009 06:55 am (UTC) (Link)
You're killing me! First James Sirius, then Grownup!Harry, and now the adorable little Black Brothers!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 13th, 2009 05:54 am (UTC) (Link)
I love the Black brothers!
mrs_norris_mous From: mrs_norris_mous Date: March 12th, 2009 07:00 am (UTC) (Link)


Sothe publishing of the first chapter implies.... :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 13th, 2009 05:55 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thanks

... that I'm going to finish it, one way or the other. I doubt I'll ever do Safe, but I can finish Stray. Especially now that I know what's going to happen with the island.
From: severely_lupine Date: March 12th, 2009 07:35 am (UTC) (Link)
You're really going to finish it? *SQUEE!* *GLOMP!*

As you can see, I'm overjoyed. I do so look forward to reading this again, and to reading the rest of it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 13th, 2009 05:55 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad to get back to it. It feels good.
silvery_wraith From: silvery_wraith Date: March 12th, 2009 07:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh Fern. I haven't even had time to finish reading all your prompt challanges and here you are posting Stray again....do you ever rest? I'm very happy that you've decided to pick up Stray again and I think it's so good the second time around. I'd forgotton how much I liked the concept for it when you did this the first time. Here's to an active muse for your work on Stray!

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 13th, 2009 05:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Resting was making me crazy, though doing wonders for my knowledge of useless bits of foreign languages.
From: nell_aria Date: March 12th, 2009 09:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Ooooh, Fern! This is really good! Really, really excellent. Some of your best writing. Loving the distinctly different and distinctly canon characters you spin for the boys. Beautiful stuff.

I don't know where you plan to take this story, but I have a feeling that if you let it, it will lead *you*, it seems to have that power.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 13th, 2009 05:57 am (UTC) (Link)
It did when I was working on it before. I got spoiled on DH, and that sort of killed my interest in writing an even peripherally R/T story, but it's been nagging at me to get back to it. It's showed up a lot in the Teddy stories, in oddball ways.
tearoha From: tearoha Date: March 12th, 2009 10:20 am (UTC) (Link)
You're posting stray????
The poor Black brothers, with a mother like that.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 13th, 2009 05:59 am (UTC) (Link)
She must have had some good properties, as both of her sons turned out all right in the end (if a little crazy), but I doubt they were easy virtues.
demonoflight From: demonoflight Date: March 12th, 2009 11:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, hooray!!! I was really looking forward to Stray! The Black brothers are two of my favorite characters! Oh, they make for such adorable kids.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 13th, 2009 05:59 am (UTC) (Link)
I luff the Black brothers big time!
marycontraria From: marycontraria Date: March 12th, 2009 12:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
HURRAH!! I loved the first few chapters so much. :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 13th, 2009 05:59 am (UTC) (Link)
I did, too. It had been a while since I read it, and it was actually coming together very nicely. I'm sorry I dropped it (though Teddy has been very good to me in the interim).
malinbe From: malinbe Date: March 12th, 2009 12:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
And here I'm re-reading Daedalus' Maze (after all the others in the Shiftsverse), thinking I would be finished with your stories... I AM SO GLAD I'M NOT!!
*happy dance*

Thank you so much!

(BTW, yesterday I finished my re-read of Hunter's Moon, and you mnaged to create such a horrific character with Greyback, that I actually, the night before, had a nightmare about him. He was coming for my little sister. It was terrifying. I never have nightmares inspired in fiction. Never.)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 13th, 2009 06:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Eek! Greyback gives me the willies, but I don't think I ever had an outright nightmare about him.
lollapulizer From: lollapulizer Date: March 12th, 2009 04:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm so excited to read this! I'm so glad you've posted it!

This Sirius/Regulus dynamic was really interesting and exactly how I pictured them pre-Hogwarts. It'll be interesting to see how this ties into the story, since Stray takes place during DH, right?
marycontraria From: marycontraria Date: March 12th, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Nope, this one takes place during GoF - it was started a few weeks before DH came out, then abandoned in the aftermath. It was off to such a strong start, though, I'm so glad it's going to be finished!!
carlinpaddy From: carlinpaddy Date: March 12th, 2009 04:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh oh oh, that last bit was so sad! I thought this was going to be a story of their childhood and it wouldn't get sad for 9 or 10 more years!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 13th, 2009 06:03 am (UTC) (Link)
I think the memory of childhood will play into the story a lot more in later chapters, so hopefully, we'll see more of decently-getting-along Sirius and Regulus, at least in flashbacks. I was just using the GoF trick of starting with a dream from a different POV before switching to the main character, as a structural mirror.
From: spitc1899 Date: March 12th, 2009 04:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
You just made a miserably sick day so much better! I love this story!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 13th, 2009 06:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, good, glad to help out! (I just got over the flu, so I sympathize.)
dreamer_marie From: dreamer_marie Date: March 12th, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yay! You're picking up Stray again! This is excellent news!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 13th, 2009 06:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Hopefully, it will start writing itself like it was doing before I got DH-spoiled.
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