"I don't think it was ever more than eight or nine," Black said, stopping for a second on the landing to look out the window. It was starting to rain. "Back in the day, the richest wizards used to have entire families of house-elves working for them. Our family's old elf quarters are in the basement off the kitchen."
"You're joking," Harry said. He, Black and Kreacher had spent three hours in the kitchen, trying not to be sick as they scrubbed at the mildew and mold. "I never saw a door or anything."
"It's hidden," Black replied, turning onto the second floor. "House-elves are supposed to be inconspicuous unless their families need them. The door's in that tall chest across from the stove - it's the cupboard on the bottom right.
Harry remembered the cupboard door, which he had wiped clean of something that looked like dried tomato sauce; it was about three and a half feet high and three feet wide. "So humans can't go into the elf quarters?"
"Not unless they're small or skinny. I used to hide from my mother in there when I was about six years old."
Harry wasn't exactly fond of the dozens of snake decorations all over the house, but he had to admit that they looked good in the second-story bathroom, where all the spigots were in the shape of water serpents. "Show Nymphadora around the house tomorrow, will you?" Black asked, reaching for his toothbrush. "She's never been here before and she wants to see everything - she's heard Andromeda and me talk about it for years."
"Okay," Harry said, sitting down on the edge of the bathtub.
"The only place I don't want the two of you going is the half-floor at the top of the house. There's just my old bedroom and Regulus's old bedroom up there, and they haven't been touched since we left home."
"When did Regulus leave home, anyway?" asked Harry. "It couldn't have been that long before he disappeared, not if he's your younger brother - d'you think there's something in there that might have to do with where he is?"
It took Black a while to answer. "Not unless it's a sign saying who did it," he replied after he'd rinsed the toothpaste from his mouth. "Regulus moved out of the house around seven months before he went missing. If there's anything there connected to the Malfoys, it could be there for completely innocent reasons."
"But what if it's not the Malfoys?" Harry persisted. Considering all the time and attention the Aurors were giving to searching the Malfoys' house, he could hardly believe they hadn't been in Regulus's old bedroom. "What if there's, say, a piece of paper with someone's name on it, and you don't know who that person is? What if they're still alive and you can ask them about Regulus? Or what if - your mum's the last person who saw him, right?"
"Officially," Black said. "After that photograph at the Malfoys, I have my doubts."
"Okay," said Harry, "but either way, Regulus came here right before he went missing. Maybe he didn't go up to his old room, but there's nothing to prove he didn't, is there? If I was Regulus and I wanted to hide something, I'd hide it in this house. It's huge, it's got all sorts of hiding places - I can't see your mum just letting the Death Eaters in to search the place, either. We've got to look tomorrow, Sirius."
Black looked as though he were thinking it over. "It's not a bad idea," he said at last. "I'll be honest, I haven't been thinking much about how to find Regulus. If I had, hopefully I would have thought of this by now - it might be worth it to shine a light in the elf quarters, too. Regulus was Kreacher's favorite member of the family after my mother."
Back in his new bedroom, Harry put on his pajamas, scrawled a quick note to Dobby, and got into bed. "You'd better not be here, Phineas," he told the portrait on the floor. There was no answer.
Outside, the rain was falling faster and harder; Hedwig was in her open cage on top of the wardrobe, hooting softly. This is my first night in my own room, Harry thought to himself. This is the first night Sirius and I are in our own house...
It was still raining the next morning - Harry was eager to race upstairs and start going through Regulus's things, but Black talked him out of it. "Give the Tonkses a few hours to settle in and have something to eat," he said, picking at a knot in his hair. To Harry's surprise, he was wearing a long-sleeved blue t-shirt and a pair of jeans that looked at least ten years old. "After that I'm sure Nymphadora will love to help us. Let me warn you, though - Andromeda doesn't have much difficulty believing Lucius Malfoy might have killed Regulus, but she insists Narcissa couldn't have had anything to do with it. In some part of Andromeda's mind, Narcissa's still her innocent baby sister."
"Even after Narcissa disowned her?" Harry asked incredulously. "Even after Narcissa married a Death Eater who lied to keep himself out of Azkaban and - "
The knot was coming loose. "Don't ask me to explain it," Black said. "Oh, one more thing, Harry. Unless he comes up in conversation, do me a favor and don't mention Remus."
The doorbell rang; suddenly, a horrific scream came from the entryway. "There goes my mother," Black said, and quickly started down the stairs, Harry following him. "You open the door, I'll deal with the portrait - "
Somehow, the velvet draperies were open, and a lifelike portrait of the most hideous woman Harry had ever seen was screeching as her eyes rolled back in her head. "FILTH!" she screamed, so loudly that Harry had to cover his ears. Black grabbed the curtains and tried to pull them back together, but for some reason, they wouldn't move. "Open the door, Harry!" he shouted over his mother. "She'll shut up in another few seconds - "
Swallowing, Harry reached for the handle and opened the door.
The first thought that came into his head was that the Tonkses reminded him of an Easter basket; while Andromeda had long brown hair past her shoulders, Ted was blond and Nymphadora's hair was bright pink. "Oh, wow, is that the painting of Sirius's mother?" she asked, sticking her head through the door. "I thought you were exaggerating, Mum..."
Black finally managed to yank the draperies shut; the screaming stopped at once. "Sorry about that," he said, grinning at the Tonkses. "Come in."
Nymphadora ran inside and threw her arms around Black; he staggered backwards, but he was smiling. "Hi, kid," he said, and kissed the top of her head. "How's my favorite cousin once removed?"
"Oh, yeah, like there's some big competition to be your favorite," Nymphadora said, letting go of him. Parvati and Lavender probably would have liked her outfit, Harry thought; she was wearing a tight black t-shirt and bright turquoise jeans. "Nymphadora versus Draco - the epic battle..."
"My God, she's gone back to 'Nymphadora,'" Black said, looking at Andromeda and Ted. "What happened to Nym? What happened to Ympha? What happened to Phado, that was my favorite one..."
"I'm reclaiming the name Nymphadora," Nymphadora said. "You know, like how gay people didn't like being called queer, and then some of them decided they were going to reclaim it - " Ted cleared his throat. "Well, they did, Dad." Nymphadora looked at Harry, rolled her eyes, and grinned. "Hey, Sirius, how am I related to Harry? Can he be my godcousin?"
"I don't know - Harry, do you want a godcousin?"
"Maybe," Harry said. "Does that mean Malfoy has to be my godcousin too?"
He had never seen Black like this before, joking and playful; for the first time, he realized what the younger Black must have been like when he was happy. "He might have to technically be your godcousin," said Nymphadora, "but don't worry, you can disown him."
"I think I'll keep him, actually," Harry replied. "Finding out he's related to me will probably kill him."
As the words left his mouth, he realized how insensitive they might sound - another member of the family probably had been killed - but to his relief, no one seemed to take offense. "Heard it's down to Gryffindor and Slytherin for the Quidditch Cup," Ted said, setting down his suitcase. He was a distinctly odd-looking man, with muscular arms, skinny legs, and a belly that could have belonged to Father Christmas. His hair had the look of a dye experiment gone wrong, but Harry suspected the color was real - unlike Draco and Lucius Malfoy, who were so blond their hair was nearly white, or Brutus Swift, whose strawberry blond hair made his head look pink, Ted's hair was only a few shades lighter than a daffodil. "Dora and I think 'Dromeda's secretly rooting for the Slytherins, but we love her anyway - "
"I am not," Andromeda said, sounding flustered.
"I know you're not," Ted replied, putting one arm around her shoulder. "I'm just teasing you, sweetheart."
"I know you are, but it bothers me that you'd even think of that in the first place - "
Even without Black's sense of humor, it was obvious that Andromeda was his cousin. If Harry hadn't known better, he might have guessed they were brother and sister. While both her hair and her eyes were brown, Andromeda had Black's pale skin, his tall and lean build, his strong and even features - she even had the same way of distinctly pronouncing every word. "Maybe you and Brutus could secede from Slytherin," Black said. "Like the American South seceding from the rest of the country."
"They had legal slavery in the American South, Sirius."
"I'll give you Kreacher if you want him. Has everyone got their luggage? All the bedrooms are upstairs..."
Nymphadora seemed fascinated by the house; more than once, her mother stopped and waited for her to finish staring at something. "It's almost like something from a horror film," Nymphadora said, looking up at the chandelier. "Like there ought to be vampires living upstairs..."
Black didn't reply, but Harry wondered if they were thinking the same thing: if Swift's theory was right, one day there might be a werewolf living upstairs. "What's my bedroom look like?" Nymphadora asked, hurrying to catch up to Black. "Please say it's got a secret passage or something - "
"Sorry," Black said, stepping onto the first floor and opening the door to the lavender bedroom. "This is it."
Harry wondered which member of the Black family had been responsible for decorating the lavender bedroom; it was jarringly different from the rest of the house, with its downy quilt and white lace curtains. Aunt Petunia might have even liked it. Nymphadora didn't seem particularly disappointed. "Wow," she said, dropping her suitcase on the bed, "it's like sleeping in a lilac bush. Hey, where's Kreacher?"
Earlier that morning, Kreacher had dragged several loaves of bread, an extra blanket, and a book called To Purity of Blood into the elf quarters, declaring he was going to stay there until the Tonkses were gone. "I might make him come out after a few days," Black said, leaning against the door frame. "He'll have to come out for Easter, at any rate - the first-story bathroom's that door there. Andromeda and Ted, you're on the second floor with Harry and me."
Andromeda and Ted's room had dark blue wallpaper and a sturdy wooden bed. "Please tell me at least one bedroom in this house has candelabras or canopies," Nymphadora said as her parents began to unpack. "Or bookcases that are really doors, or a balcony or something - "
"I'm not sure," Harry said. "Want to see what's on the third floor?"