The Heir and a Spare – 5/6 – SASundance

Title: The Heir and a Spare
Author: SASundance
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Family, Hurt/Comfort, Tragedy
Relationship(s): Gen
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Hate Crimes/Hate Speech, Incest, Torture, Violence – Graphic, Violence – Domestic and/or Against Children, Cousin Incest, Discussion of canon related under-aged sex and pregnancies, Suicidality of a character, Insanity, Infertility issues, Linebreeding, Very dark themes, Rape and torture of victims, Child abuse, Bigotry and ignorance, War and cults, misogyny, dubcon, misunderstanding of genetics
Author Notes: If you are likely to be triggered, please take warnings seriously. There is a lot of dark content in this one. It is a story of war, hate and vengeance. Please see main story page or post 1 for additional information. Author uses British spelling.
Word Count: 177,000
Summary: It was clear to Lord Arcturus Black, Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Black that the most powerful pureblood family in Britain faced the prospect of line extinction within the next few generation. Unless the decline in birth rates, fertility, magic, and longevity wasn’t arrested soon, it would be too late. He came up with a unique solution to his problem, never realising that it would make it possible for the House of Black to defeat an existential threat to the magical and muggle world. But that victory would come at considerable cost to the family, in particular to his heir and the spare.
Artist: librarycat9



Part Five: Disowned

Chapter 32

Easter Holidays 1975

Sirius knew that his family intended to recruit him for Tom Riddle’s band of murdering pureblood supremacists as soon as he reached his majority because he’d spent last summer as Padfoot, eavesdropping on the newly rebranded dumbass Death Eaters without them knowing. Since he didn’t turn seventeen until November, he thought he’d be okay until then and had been busy trying to make plans. Suddenly, all the money he’d banked at Gringotts from his share of their Chocolate business took on vital importance as it would give him the ability to support himself and pay for his last years at Hogwarts.

All he had to do was finish out his final years at Hogwarts and then he would apply for the Auror Training Programme when he graduated. He was confident that his grades would be good enough to be accepted into the program. Sirius was determined to fight in the war against Riddle and his band of murderous thugs, which he and many others believed was coming to the wizarding world. It was also highly likely that he, the heir of the heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Black would be fighting against the rest of the Black family.

He’d instinctively known that this was how it would play out and he’d reached an uneasy acceptance. He had to be true to what he believed, even if it cost him his entire family.

Sirius was under no illusion that the moment he refused to take the dark mark of Voldemort aka Tom Riddle, his family would immediately disown him. In which case, all the money he’d made over the last almost five years at Hogwarts which he’d never really be fussed about had suddenly became his ticket to freedom.

But since life had never run smoothly for him, he’d been half expecting it to happen before he turned seventeen, although he hoped it wouldn’t because it would make things much more complicated. At Christmas, he’d been very jumpy, but nothing happened, so he thought that maybe, just maybe he was going to be safe until November – or at least until he’d sat his OWLS.

When they informed him the night of his return from Scotland at the end of the term that they were attending a family dinner at his Uncle Cygnus’ he’d been alarmed. Hell yes, he was scared! He thought about bolting – going to his Uncle Alphard for protection but he didn’t want to get him into trouble. He’d considered going to his Grandfather Arcturus. From the conversation, he’d heard between him and Alphard and the fact he paid for private tutors and was giving him advanced lessons in magic he was hoping he could trust him.

Sirius knew that he didn’t approve of the situation with Tom Riddle. Surely, his paternal grandfather would offer him sanctuary as the Head of the Ancient and Noble of Black before he belatedly remembered that Arcturus was away in Austria at some dumbass wizarding symposium for wizards and witches. However, his grandmother, Lady Melania Black had stayed behind. Momentarily he considered that he could go seek sanctuary from his grandmother, but Melania had never seemed to warm to him, treating him politely but never lovingly.

A first he thought it was him, that it was something about him that she hated or something he’d done to offend her until he noticed that she was equally polite but distant to Regulus too, so maybe it wasn’t all about him at all. She was far more loving with Aaron, Ares, and Gemini, her other three grandchildren and Sirius concluded that she didn’t like his mother. Hey, that was understandable – Walburga was not very likeable. Whatever Melania’s problem with him was, Sirius didn’t feel comfortable going to her for help.

He tried to stay calm; he could be barking up the wrong tree about them trying to recruit him tonight. They could just be planning on having an innocent family dinner but even if it were just a meal, the last thing he wanted to do was to sit at the same dinner table with Rodolphus and Bella. Andi had always been his favourite of the three girl cousins, but she’d been disowned by Cygnus when she married Theodore Tonks – a muggle healer instead of that vile piece of shit, Lucius Malfoy. At the time, Sirius thought his uncle might have an apoplectic fit when she eloped – in the end he settled for arranging for his youngest daughter Narcissa to marry Malfoy instead.

Oh shit! What if Cissy and her fiancé were there for dinner. No, he couldn’t face such a hostile meal and he was getting ready to run when his father grabbed hold of him. Before he could resist, Orion side-along apparated him straight into Cygnus’ sitting room instead of using the floo like one would for a civilised family dinner. Since the Blacks were big on civility, he knew this was not going to end well.

He was immediately disarmed of his wand by Orion and Sirius wondered if any of them knew that he was quite capable of doing a lot of spells and charm work sans his wand and at his tutor’s guidance, had started non-verbal casting last term too. Hopefully, they didn’t know, and he’d try his damnedest to keep that information up his sleeve for the moment. Pranking with the Marauders had taught him the value of holding back and not revealing everything at once. What he needed to do so he could get through this was to stay calm and try to think of this as an epic prank he was about to pull – the mother of all pranks.

To pull it off he needed to be like an iceberg. Show only one tenth of what he was capable of and keep the other ninety percent under the surface.

He looked around, taking note of the individuals in the room which included his uncle Cygnus, Bella sneering at him and her husband, Rodolphus Lestrange whose expression was disturbing, not outright hostility, exactly but a yearning look that had Padfoot yelling inside his head to run away, fast.

J.K. Rowles had never warned his readers of his manual that being an Animagus meant not only being aware of two heartbeats, but that his Animagus would providing him with a running commentary in his head that could be irritating, funny or cool depending on the circumstances. Right now, he ignored Pads because there was nowhere to run, so instead, he continued his survey of the guests in the room, taking deep breaths, telling himself to remain calm.

Rabastan Lestrange was standing, grinning smugly beside his father, Rodolphus Lestrange Sr. Walburga, the crazy old bat was there looking like a kneazle who’d stolen the cream and fawning all over Regulus who was positively lapping up his mother’s undivided attention. Sirius ignored them both, too busy in truth try not to panic as he caught sight of not one but two blonde vampires, Abraxas and Lucius Malfoy. Okay, maybe not blood-sucking vamps in the strictest sense of the word but most definitely energy-sucking vampires that made your skin crawl and your gut roil. Andi was so lucky to have escaped their clutches. She would have had all the spirit sucked out of her if the marriage to Lucy had gone ahead, and fortunately, Narcissa was already emotionally cold so she would be impervious to them. Maybe!

Moving on…and finally, there was a stranger in the room that made Padfoot’s hackles immediately rise – talk about your visceral response. Pads did not like him at all and was practically howling at him, escape before it’s too late. Sorry Pads but it was already way too late.

This encounter was inevitable even if he’d hoped for a bit more time. The stranger had red eyes but for some reason, Sirius was sure that he wasn’t an albino and he had pale waxen skin which made the Vamp Twins look tanned and healthy by comparison. It was disconcerting the incredible degree of subservience all these pureblood witches and wizards were displaying to this stranger; being Padfoot had made him acutely aware of body language. This group collectively was projecting fear, awe, and submissiveness.

In some ways, it reminded him of their wolfpack, weird though it was, but with a whole lot more fear and sycophantic kowtowing thrown in for good measure. With a frisson of dread, he realised this must be the great Tom Riddle, the half-blood bastard son of Merope Gaunt and contrary to popular belief, the last surviving member of the Gaunt family line. Most people considered it to be extinct, but they were wrong.

Appraising his enemy carefully, Sirius noted that his skin had an unpleasant greyish cast to it, and his nose was more reptilian than human in appearance and he wondered how Riddle’s freakish appearance did not cause pureblood wizards and witches to laugh in his face about his absurd claims to be pureblood. No doubt about it, they were all cretinous simpletons due to centuries of inbreeding.

He knew that he was in a lot of trouble. Not having obtained his OWLS yet, his father had a huge advantage over him. He could threaten to have his wand snapped and his magic bound if Sirius disobeyed him. He wondered who had figured that out – probably Riddle. He wasn’t convinced that Orion was capable of being that smart.

Just as he came to the realisation this wouldn’t end well for him, Riddle spoke up, “Ah the young rebel, here at last. Despite your disrespect for Lord Salazar Slytherin, I’m willing to overlook your childish indiscretion in choosing Godric Gryffindor. Appease me by joining with the other purebloods. Enlist in my army of warriors,” he said magnanimously.

Sirius immediately noticed Riddle’s voice has a weird inhuman quality to it – a hissing sound on certain consonants the sibilant ones of S and Z that made Padfoot’s hackles rise and Sirius’ skin crawl. Despite feeling scared that he wasn’t going to get out of this alive, he had far too much pride to show fear or even submission to this freak…this pretender.

He smiled arrogantly and if it was one thing that a Black knew how to do well, it was to be a massively condescending arsehole.

Chuckling, he said, “Well now, Tom, that’s a mighty generous offer but I’m afraid I’m going to have to decline it because I don’t worship cowardly Lords who slither off like a snivelling snake when his fellow founders disagree with his political agenda.  I’m not a fan of a wizard who just walks out on his responsibilities and then runs around recruiting a bunch of weaselly pricks who model themselves after the muggle chivalric order known as the Knights Templar to fight his battles for him. You may have heard of them, they used to call themselves the Knights of Walpurgis and they wear masks to remain anonymous while they slaughter muggles and muggle-borns.”

Riddle immediately sent a Cruciatus curse at him and he was pleased to note that it wasn’t nearly as bad as the last time. Either old Tommy was going easy on him or his tolerance level to the curse had increased quite a bit since his mother used it. Maybe it was because he was an Animagus, although he wasn’t sure why that would be and now wasn’t exactly the time to be analysing it either.

Sirius chuckled cynically. “And there you have it, folks. The pathetic half-blood wizard needs to invent a fake name to impress everyone because he’s ashamed of his muggle father, Tom Riddle Sr who was tricked into conceiving him and didn’t want him. The imposter claims to champion pureblood supremacy but since when do pure-blood wizards define a half-blood illegitimate son of a witch genealogists say was little more than a squib as PUREBLOOD?  A squib who potioned a muggle to have a baby with her. That child is hardly pure of blood and that’s who you dolts have sworn to follow, all because he tells you what you want to hear even though he isn’t who he says he is.”

Riddle’s grey pallor was suffused with red; furious, he increased the intensity of the Cruciate Curse and Sirius screamed in agony. As it persevered, he became fearful that it would drive him mad; perhaps he’d gone too far in humiliating old Tommy-boy. But he would rather die a quick, if painful death than be forced into what amounted to slavery. Having suffered at the hands of his mother’s madness for most of his life, he was not about to sign on to become a cog in the wheel of Riddle’s vendetta just because the fates dealt him a shitty hand in life, and he blamed all muggles for it.

If Tom wanted to blame anyone, he should start by being incensed at the self-entitled attitude of purebloods which spawned Merope Gaunt’s deluded belief that it was perfectly acceptable behaviour to give love potions to a rich muggle. Merope thought it was perfectly fine to rape Thomas Riddle Senior and conceive a child because she belonged to a Pureblood family.  Merope and her kind were who he should be directing his ire at.  Not muggles like Tom Riddle Senior who was the innocent victim in the whole lurid situation, along with the biological child he’d been forced to create against his will. Talk about the worst ever case of victim-blaming and it was by the rape victim’s own son.

Just when he thought he was beginning to lose a grip due to the pain, it stopped. Riddle was regarding him appraisingly even though he was still bright red in the face. He hissed, “A mere boy and yet you have an extraordinarily strong pain threshold. Interesting! And you are a skilled Occlumens, although if I wanted, I could easily breach your defences. You have taught him well, Orion,” he praised Sirius’ father, who was looking shocked.

Riddle chuckled unpleasantly. “I see that it was not you who trained him. Interesting!” He looked at Rodolphus Jr and Lucius. “Take him to the dungeon for now and do not Cruccio him,” he ordered them menacingly.

His nerve endings were still excruciating and too weak to fight them, they had summarily dragged Sirius out of the room and into a dungeon that had once been a small cellar for storing bottles of wines. Cygnus had been a keen collector of wines: muggle, wizard and elven wines and Sirius wondered idly where they were now.

The two wizards dumped him on the stone floor where he lay panting, trying to fight through the pain.

~o0o~

Lucius had an unpleasant smirk on his face as he regarded the Gryffindor and Rodolphus glanced at his friend and soon to be brother-in-law worriedly. “Our Lord said not to Cruccio him, Malfoy. The only reason he stopped was that he was afraid that Black would be driven mad, and you know Lord Voldemort wants to recruit him.”

Lucius snarled, “I do not understand why he is so obsessed with Black; he is nothing more than a blood traitor and a vile little liar. All those lies he was spouting about Lord Voldemort. He is blasphemous and should be punished.”

“But our Lord said no more Cruciatus curses, Lucius.”

“True, but he didn’t say that we couldn’t have a little fun with him,” he said consideringly as he slapped his cane into his hand.

It made a pleasing thwacking sound as he considered the situation. He’d only recently begun to carry it as a prop to intimidate half-bloods and mudbloods with it, and he’d found it to be extremely effective. He suddenly realised it could serve another purpose.

Lucius stared at Sirius, struggling with a red-hot hatred for him that that had been simmering away for years. He would never forgive him for the utter humiliation he and his stupid Gryffindor friends had caused him when they’d vanished his clothing on the train platform filled with Hogwarts student and their families on his last day as Hogwarts Head Boy. The loss of face and his father’s contempt had been intolerable and even without that slight to his reputation, Lucius had always detested Sirius Black.

The fact that he was the eldest son of the heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Black, which was the most powerful of the pureblood houses in Britain and that he was in line to take it over someday was deeply offensive to Lucius. Sirius was arrogant and had repeatedly brought dishonour to the house to which he aspired to join through marriage and still, the little shit still lived, still continued to besmirch its reputation as he had done today. Malfoy would concede that it was tragic and unfortunate that the Blacks had made some imprudent matches recently permitted their daughters to marry some less than staunch purebloods such as the Prewitts, Longbottoms and Crouchs, although Bartimeus Junior had recently expressed interest in joining Lord Voldemort’s ranks, so perhaps they were redeemable.

Of course, the fact that the House of Black was faltering presented a unique opportunity for any progeny Lucius may produce with Narcissa, they could end up one day leading the House of Black. The Malfoys were migrants, they had come here from France and prospered, becoming an extremely influential tour de force in the magical world. There was there was no reason why the Malfoys couldn’t conquer the Ancient and Noble House of Black in the next generation or two. Which made it imperative that first they get rid of the blood traitor.

Staring at his cane, it occurred to him that Black being such a traitor to his heritage, it would be entirely fitting for him to be thrashed like the cur he was. Raising his cane high above his head, he brought it down swiftly as it made a satisfying whistling sound through the air before striking flesh and eliciting a thud and an agonised scream. Raising it again, he struck Black’s back as he curled tight into a ball and muffled his screams.

For some reason, his trying to muffle his screams seemed to increase Malfoy’s lust for blood; he needed to hear the traitor scream. Ignoring the yells from Lestrange to stop, he continued to strike the young wizard’s back repeatedly as he shredded his flesh.

~o0o~

Lucius didn’t stop until Rodolphus reluctantly cast a body-binding charm on him, telling him that he had no choice because he was going to kill Black and then their Lord would kill him.

Receiving word via their dark marks that Voldemort wanted Black brought to Cygnus’s sitting room, Rodolphus cast the strongest numbing charm he could produce on the injured wizard – not only to protect his friend from any reprisal from their Lord, but because on some level he found himself desiring the young wizard, which surprised him. His surprise was not because was attracted to a wizard; Rodolphus had found out early in his life that he was attracted to witches and wizards.

Nevertheless, as the Lestrange heir, it was expected of him that he would make a good marriage and produce a male heir. He’d married Bellatrix, but it had been a political union of the two families. So far, Bella had failed to conceive a child, but their sexual unions were sporadic at best. She wasn’t really all that interested in sex, at least not unless it also involved pain which was just not his cup of tea.

He knew his wife was enamoured with Lord Voldemort and he suspected that if he invited her to share his bed, Bella would consider it an honour. Moreover, their Lord would have no difficulty in satisfying her need to feel pain, which was the only time she was in the mood for sex. Rodolphus found her need to inflict pain and to experience it did nought for his libido.

Yet despite his dissatisfaction with his wife sexually, he hadn’t expected to suddenly start having feelings for the blood traitor. Even while Rodolphus’ conservative pureblood sensibilities were outraged by Black thumbing his nose at their traditions and mores, something attracted him to Sirius Orion Black. It wasn’t that he was the heir of the heir. He was charismatic, had an arrogant grace that was typical of the Black men and in the two years since Rodolphus left Hogwarts, Sirius has grown up a lot. He was tall and wiry and was bloody gorgeous, to boot. Some wizards led charmed lives, wealth, looks and power and Black was trying to throw it back in his family’s faces, the ungrateful little wretch. Lestrange hoped that Black would see reason before it was too late.

Yet for all his physical attributes and his connections, that wasn’t why Rodolphus found himself lusting after the blood traitor so badly. It was despite his youth, his refusal to bow down which Lestrange found alluring; surrounded by toadying types and sycophants all wanting to kiss Lord Voldemort’s arse, Black’s rebelliousness was oddly compelling. He withstood physical pain with stoic courage but didn’t get off on it like his crazy cousin Bella. Rodolphus found it admirable.

Lord Voldemort wanted him that much was obvious; he wanted all the Blacks, but he was particularly obsessed with Sirius. Lucius couldn’t understand why the Lord was so determined to have him join the Death Eaters and Rodolphus didn’t either. Not unless Voldemort desired him too, he often picked out the pretty female muggles to have sex with.

Orion and Walburga Black seemed bound and determined to offer up Sirius, and Regulus when he was old enough as servants of their Lord, despite Sirius making it plain he had no intention of submitting. But there was one thing that his Death Eaters understood – you did not cross Voldemort unless you wanted to die a painful death. Those who were foolish enough to displease him and were dispatched by him via a Killing Curse were the lucky ones, some spent weeks dying painfully.

Despite Black’s blasphemy, he did not want to see that happen to him.  Perhaps that was what attracted the Dark Lord to him, the challenge.

Trying not to hurt the headstrong wizard unduly, he hauled him to his feet, countering the curse he’d cast on Lucius who looked like he wanted to retaliate. Except that both wizards knew that it didn’t pay to keep their supreme commander waiting.

~o0o~

They took him back to Voldemort who looked at both young Death Eaters searchingly before Lucius dropped his eyes submissively.

“I thought if he is such a muggle lover then he should be punished like a muggle, My Lord,” he said arrogantly, although it was apparent that he wasn’t nearly as sangfroid as he made out.

Ignoring him, Voldemort addressed the barely conscious Gryffindor. “I cannot break you by my usual methods without turning you into a blithering pile of drool, so you force me to be more creative, young Black. I will have you, rest assured. If your own pain won’t break you, maybe the pain of your family might do the trick,” he said, watching Sirius’ expression.

He was shocked when Sirius chuckled weakly. “I care even less for my family than I do for my own pain, Tommy. They’ve beaten me my whole life and they haven’t been able to break me, why should I care if you hurt them – they deserve everything you can throw at them,” he told him, casting a look of loathing and disgust at his parents.

Voldemort didn’t believe him obviously because he sent the Cruciatus Curse at Orion and Sirius watched dispassionately. Since his parents had stood and not said a word when he was cursed, he didn’t feel bad that his father was being tortured. He also wouldn’t break if Tom cursed his mother either. There was only one person in the room who he might be broken for – his brother Reg – so he needed to convince Riddle he didn’t care about anyone in the room.

When he showed no sign of capitulating, Tom pointed his wand and at Walburga and screamed Crucio at her as she started to shriek like a banshee. When Sirius laughed, Tom stared at him like he was some weird freak.

“What? You expected me to care about the crazy old bat finally getting a taste of her own medicine,” he asked incredulously. “How does it feel, Mother? You Crucio’d me often enough until Grandfather Pollux threatened to disown you if you ever did it again. Guess that’s why it doesn’t hurt so much when old Tommy tried it on me, huh?”

Everyone in the room looked at him in shock. Voldemort was already looking at other candidates and Sirius jumped in first. “I don’t care if you Crucio’d everyone in this room, Tom. I despised everyone here, you’d be doing me a favour if you did since I owe all of them for abusing me. Do Bella next,” he pleaded, hoping that his feelings for Regulus, despite his betrayal, was firmly buried with his other secrets behind his mental mindscape and that Riddle wouldn’t try to dig them up.

Bella screamed in fury and launched herself at her younger cousin, her hands around his neck, trying to throttle him before Voldemort levitated her into the air and said, “Ah loving families. I see what you mean. We need to find a new inducement. It is inconvenient but nothing more. You will swear allegiance to me, Sirius Black and take the Dark Mark this night. That is a promise.”

Feeling stronger, knowing he’d successfully concealed his ambivalent feelings about Regulus, he taunted him, “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Tom Riddle. I will never bow down to an insane illegitimate half-blood. Never.”

Padfoot wanted to crush his jugular!

Chapter 33

After that last exchange with Riddle, Sirius was removed to the former cellar turned dungeon. Not surprisingly, he was beaten again by his nemesis, Lucius Malfoy and this time, Lucy decided that as Sirius Black was such a muggle-loving blood traitor, it was therefore wholly appropriate that Malfoy punish him like a muggle and proceeded to kick the crap out of him. Sirius felt sure that he was going to die this night, but he would not submit to Riddle or the Death Eaters.

Later, when it was Bella’s turn to guard him, she forced him to drink water that tasted bitter. Almost immediately he started to feel excruciating pain ripping through his gut and Sirius soon figured the water had some sort of cramping potion in it. Shortly the pain was joined by a case of raging nausea that had him puking his guts up. Just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse, he started having an uncontrollable desire to go to the loo; he ended up covered in the most foul-smelling faeces imaginable.

Although he’d never tried doing a wandless cleaning charm before, if ever there was a time to try it, now was the appropriate time. He waited until Voldemort swapped guards to try the spell, which, fortunately, worked like a charm. His new gaoler didn’t know about his faeces and vomit-soaked clothes and dress robes and he was left in peace, although he still had horrendous cramping in his gut. It felt like he’d swallowed a dragon.

Some hours later Sirius was dragged back into his Uncle Cygnus’ sitting room full of Death Eaters and supporters of Riddle who just happened to be members of his own family and the Great Pretender himself. In the middle of the room was what he thought was a pile of clothes but as he was dragged into the centre of the room, he realised it was a human, who stared at Sirius, terrified.

Riddle looked immensely smug. “Ah Sirius, say hello to our guest. You don’t care if I torture members of your own family, but I thought you might feel differently about a muggle,” he said menacingly and pointed his wand at the muggle who looked terrified. “Crucio!” he purred silkily as the poor muggle began screeching in terrible agony. His screams went on and on for what seemed like an eternity even after Riddle had murmured the counter curse.

As he watched Sirius’ he said to him, “He’s going to go mad with the pain – you know how much it hurts. Are you willing to stand there and do nothing?” he said before applying the Cruciatus curse again as the muggle’s pain level intensified. The anonymous man started screaming until he was hoarse before Tom once again applied the counter curse.

“The muggle is going to die tonight, my question for you is, will you help him to die quickly and painlessly, or will you stand there while he’s in agony for hours. I’m very skilled at know how much a muggle can tolerate. All you need to do is cast the killing curse. It would be an act of mercy,” he said persuasively as a used broom salesman.

Sirius had to hand it to Riddle, the bastard had come up with an exquisite form of torture for the Gryffindor, although he readily acknowledged it was much worse for the muggle. Even though he knew what Riddle’s agenda was, retribution against the muggle world for ending up in an orphanage, it was as illogical and cruel as if Sirius blamed every pureblood for the fact that his family had physically and emotionally abused him his entire life and wanted to kill them. He knew that Riddle had laid a trap, he wanted Sirius to kill an innocent muggle so he could take the dark mark as killing an innocent was a prerequisite to making the oath and receiving the dark mark.

Sirius knew it was a trap. He knew that the unfortunate muggle was going to die by Riddle’s wand, he also knew he couldn’t stand by and let him be tortured for hours until his heart gave out. Therefore, there was only one thing he could do. If he made it out of this in one piece, he’d be forced to thank his grandfather Arcturus for his special tutoring in wandless magic.

Hoping this would work, he started clutching his stomach, acknowledging the cramps that he’d been ignoring. Silently he cast a Proiecto Vomite Charm which the Marauders had developed in their never-ending quest to divert attention away from Remus’ monthly Moony times by faking illnesses. He promptly started projectile vomiting, the violent vomitus spraying anyone too close, including Tom who was immediately distracted from his muggle torturing activity.

Demanding to know what was going on and warning his Death Eaters from lying to him, Bella admitted to slipping him a mild poisoning potion as Sirius silently cast the Marauders’ piece de resistance, the blood vomiting charm. He groaned very convincingly and started vomiting up blood and spraying it all over Bella and Lucius Malfoy. His crazy cousin looked like she wanted to push him out of the astronomy tower at Hogwarts while Lucius looked like he’d stepped in doggie doo-doo. Padfoot howled his approval!

Their supreme leader scowled at his minions, extremely pissed off. “Didn’t I make it clear that I wanted Black alive and able to take the oath, you dolts? Bella, do you have a problem comprehending simple instructions?”

He sent what looked to be a derivation of a supercharged Cheering Charm at her that promptly caused her to screech like a dying banshee, pleading for him to stop, that she was sorry and would follow his orders in the future. Sirius felt that he was getting overlooked in the generalised insanity – it seemed safe to say that Riddle was insane, but he wasn’t the only one in the room. Deciding to go for broke, he moaned theatrically before he cast a charm that not to put too fine a point on it caused the target (in this case himself) to produce the most odoriferous smelling diarrhoea which soon had everyone in the room gagging, himself included.

Riddle demanded in a strangled sounding voice that Sirius be returned to the dungeon and a healer summoned immediately while his cousin kept up her insane caterwauling. As he was dragged out of the sitting room and the remaining supporters of Riddle started casting powerful cleaning spells, he heard Rodolphus Lestrange ask what their Lord wanted them to do with the muggle.

Riddle said, “Put him in the dungeon with Black.

They aren’t going anywhere. Sirius Black had better not die or you will all be sorry,” he said ominously as the Marauder silently cheered that his plan had worked.

When the door slammed shut and he was alone with the tortured muggle, he told him, “I’m going to get you out of here.”

The muggle said, “I don’t think that I can make it, son. Save yourself – these thugs are all crazy.”

Sirius silently performed the counter charms and then cast cleaning charms that had the man looking fearful, so he said, “My name is Sirius, like the dog star. What’s yours?”

The muggle said reluctantly, “It’s Roger. Look, I don’t know what sort of lunatics have captured us but if you get a chance to escape, take it. I’m dying, I have a bad heart and that freak out there is right about one thing, I can’t take hours more torture. Please help me to die and then get the hell out of here and don’t come back,” he ordered the young wizard.

Sirius shook his head and grasped Roger’s arm, thanking Merlin that only Arcturus and Uncle Alphard knew about his Apparition abilities. With a superhuman effort driven completely by desperation and adrenaline, he pushed Roger up into a sitting position and then managed to pull the muggle up onto his feet long enough for the grievously injured wizard to side-along Apparate them both out of Cygnus’ house. Instinctively, he ended up at the front door of his fellow Marauder and distant cousin, James Potter, frightening the life out the poor Potters’ house-elves in the wee small hours of the morning, but Sirius had no idea of the time.

He also wasn’t aware of the stir he’d caused by turning up on their doorstep unexpectedly – beaten, poisoned and Cruciated, he was also magically exhausted by his ordeal and the strain of casting so many spells without a wand while injured. Although he’d been Apparating since he was quite small, Sirius had never tried to side-along anyone, and the effort left him dangerously depleted on top of everything he’d already gone through. In his desperation to escape, he’d ignored his injuries until he and Roger were free but once they were safe, he collapsed unconscious, oblivious of the drama that unfolded around him.

~o0o~

It was a quarter to three in the morning when Sirius Orion Black side-along apparated his muggle passenger to James parent’s home, landing on the front portico since the Potter wards prevented him from travelling any further. The Apparition wards (acting a little like a doorbell) alerted the Potter house elves, Lexie and Timms that a wizard and a muggle had Apparated onto the Potter property and they both popped down to investigate. Finding Master Jamie’s school friend, Sirius Black half-dead on the doorstep and a Muggle who was barely breathing had given them a nasty shock, but then anyone turning up unannounced at that time of day usually meant trouble.

Lexie immediately started elf first aid on the young wizard and after a brief second or two wondering if it was dangerous to use elf healing on a muggle, she shrugged and commenced life-saving measures. If someone didn’t do something now, the poor creature was going to die anyway – she decided to place a Stasis Charm on him until a human healer could be summoned. Chances were that the healer would be Charlus Potter and he wouldn’t make a fuss – he was family. As she worked, Lexie ordered her dumbstruck elf-mate, Timms to inform the Master and Mistress immediately and to tell Master Fleamont that they needed a healer immediately.

By the time Master Fleamont arrived with Mistress Euphemia and Master Jamie not far behind, she was happy to learn that Charlus had already on his way.

Mistress Euphemia gave a cry of distress when she saw the two individuals on her doorstep, and Lexie sympathised, since they both looked as if they’d been attacked by some vicious dragon or  a half-crazed hippogriff. Her Mistress directed Timms to bring them inside and make them comfortable in the salon which was close by. Lexie didn’t think it was a wise idea and would have protested but she was focusing all her magical energy on the muggle. Luckily, Master Potter belayed the request, gently but firmly.

“We don’t know the extent of their injuries, my love. It may be too dangerous to move them. Let’s wait until Charlus has had a chance to examine them.”

She nodded, “Yes you’re right, Darling. I just wanted to make them feel comfortable. I fear they may have gone into shock, but we might kill them if we move them,” she replied as James muted a cry of anguish.

Euphemia conjured up pillows and blankets to make them as comfortable as possible while they waited for Charlus to arrive. Not wanting to disturb Lexie from her attempts to save the muggle, she moved to young Sirius who had stayed with them several times since James had started going to Hogwarts. She had a soft spot for the boy, there was something about him that tugged on her maternal heartstrings.

She knelt down and gently stroked his hair, jumping as he flinched violently. Since she had been extremely gently and the poor boy was unconscious, Euphemia quickly surmised that his nerve endings must be extremely sensitised. She could only think of one thing that could have caused that to happen.

As James approached, she warned him softly, “Careful, Son, he’s been cruiciated. I suspect that your Uncle Charlus will say they both have. The merest touch will cause them terrible pain.”

James stood wide-eyed, shocked, and more than a little scared at the state his friend was in. “Where is he?” he demanded, impatient and afraid for his friend.

~o0o~

As a healer, Charlus was used to getting emergency calls in the dead of night but it was disconcerting for a call to come through from his cousin. He knew that it would have to be serious for them to want him to come immediately and he wasn’t too proud to admit that he was very apprehensive about what he might find when he arrived at Potter manor.

Deciding that Dorea would want to know sooner rather than later, he woke her gently and informed her that he was headed over there on an emergency call. Dorea immediately told him she would follow him as soon as she arranged for their elves to watch over Pip and Archer.

Flooing to his cousin’s home, he found Timms waiting by the fireplace impatiently. Directing him to the front portico, as Charlus approached, he heard his cousin’s wife, Euphemia warning James, “Careful, Son, he’s been Cruciated. I suspect that your Uncle Charlus will say they both have. The merest touch will cause them terrible pain.”

James stood there wild-eyed and Charlus could hear the fear and panic in his voice as he demanded, “Where is he?”

“Right behind you,” Charlus replied in a soft calm voice (his healer’s voice) and the three Potters and their house-elves immediately felt much less rattled. Having just arrived at the Manor via floo, the healer took a few seconds to assess the situation, noting that there was a stranger, who a quick diagnostic spell revealed was a muggle and the second figure lying on the ground just outside the entrance looked battered and yet somehow familiar.

Oh, Merlin’s Mother, it was Sirius Black! Much as he wanted to prepare Dorea with the news that her son was severely injured that wasn’t possible. The muggle man was perilously close to dying.

As he ran a series of diagnostic spells on the man, knowing that he was the more immediate concern, his keen eyes took in both males’ appearance. To his experienced healer’s eyes, it was very apparent to Charlus that both had been tortured. Appreciating how much house-elf magic that Lexie was expending on keeping the stranger from dying, he decided to call in his young apprentice Theodore Tonks. Sending his Patronus to find Tonks, he told him to come to Potter Manor, STATIM, before focusing back on the muggle male.

Charlus’ diagnostic scan told him that his cousin’s wife had been correct. The muggle had been Cruciated to the point where his heart was failing. Forcing a numbing potion and a heart-strengthening potion on the patient, he realised that the man had a congenital abnormality that made him pessimistic about his chances of survival, but he would do his best to save him. He knew that with the Cruciatus Curse, analgesic and anaesthetic agents barely touched the agonising pain that occurred by having nerves overstimulated repeatedly – often causing the cursed one to be driven insane or, like this male, to die of heart failure.

This man needed a cardiac specialist for his heart – probably a muggle doctor since he detected that he’d had some sort of surgery already and Charlus was way out of his depth. They needed to stabilise him and get him to St Mungo’s as soon as they could, and he needed to be treated by a specialist in Cruciatus Curses as well as a muggle doctor. Luckily, there was one healer at the hospital who had muggle medical training who could hopefully help to save his life.

Deciding that Lexie’s idea was the best one at this stage, he assisted her in place the unnamed muggle into stasis, surprised how much the unconscious and gravely ill man was fighting both of their magics. Recasting the numbing charm, making it as strong as he could, the patient still fought them. Lexie frowned; her forehead wrinkled in deep concentration before suddenly casting a Sopor Charm on their patient. It was what she used to use on Master James when he refused to go to sleep as a stubborn youngster.

Charlus felt an unexpected relaxing and then their stasis charm finally gained control, stabilising him, his racing pulse slowed down and became regular, and his heartbeat improved marginally. Most importantly they were now able to stabilise him and Charlus realised that during their struggle, his second-year apprentice had arrived and was now doing diagnostic scans on Sirius.

Nodding in acknowledgement he said, “Thank you for coming, Trainee Healer Tonks. Please carry on while I floo call St Mungos to organise to transfer this muggle male to the Curse Ward. I’ll be as quick as I can. If Black deteriorates or you have concerns, please call me,” he said looking briefly at his wife’s son and feeling torn. Yet the importance of triaging of patients was drummed into even the greenest of healers and he knew that the muggle might be stable now but that could change in the blink of an eye.

After establishing that it was safest to transport him via the floo, since he’d already been apparated by Sirius (who Charlus noted wasn’t even legally allowed to apply for an Apparition License yet) he’d organised for the medically trained doctor/healer to come through the floo to supervise his transportation. Having discharged his responsibility to the muggle patient he rushed back to Sirius hoping the young wizard would survive. Most people in Charlus’ position would resent Sirius, who was his wife’s biological son with her cousin, but the lad had no say in their decision to conceive him. Plus, he had a feeling that Sirius didn’t have the easiest of times, being brought up by Orion and Walburga Black would hardly be a picnic.

The truth was that he liked Sirius, he was a good lad. Charlus remembered a small boy who’d automatically put himself in danger to save his baby brother, flinging himself off his horse and into the path of the other ponies’ hooves to save Regulus who’d fallen off his Shetland Pony. Bottom line, Charlus reckoned it took a bloody lot of gumption to go against his whole family and their traditions. He hoped that the young Gryffindor was going to be okay, but he already knew he was very gravely injured.

Hurrying to his patient he said to Ted Tonks, “What can you tell me about our patient Trainee Healer Tonks?”

His apprentice grimaced and began reporting obediently, “Mr Black has been subjected to the Cruciatus Curse more than once but I’m not sure how many times,” he admitted nervously, before moving on. “My scans show he has multiple traumas to his thoracic and abdominal areas, from some form of blunt force trauma, I think. There’s also significant contusions and damage to his back, buttocks, and the back of his thighs, oh, and he is magically exhausted. I’m not sure why.”

As the apprentice healer was delivering his report, Charlus was performing his own scans which confirmed what Ted had told him. “My scans corroborate your findings, Ted. That’s good work. Now we’ll examine him physically,” Charlus told him calmly.

Charlus vanished Sirius’ outer garments right down to his underwear to preserve some semblance of dignity for the young wizard lying on the Potters doorstep. The healer was much amused to see that his patient was wearing some sort of muggle underpants, royal blue with a large red S, on a yellow background which he almost sure didn’t stand for S for Slytherin. Ted was a muggle and would know, but there was a time and place for everything. Charlus would ask him about it later.

He commenced his visual exam and although his scans had already told him what to expect, knowing and seeing it were two vastly different things. Any vestiges of amusement evaporated as he saw the mess that had been made of Sirius’ chest and abdomen, observing the deep and extensive bruising, that to his experienced healer’s eye was suggestive of boots. Charlus knew that they would need to keep a close eye on him for internal bleeding.

Hearing his protégé gulp and his horrified expression, he explained, mindful of his responsibility to be educating his young trainee. “It looks like someone kicked the shite out of him. It’s highly likely to have internal bleeding. What organs do we need to keep a close eye on?”

Ted thought and said, “The spleen? And his kidneys?”

Charlus nodded, “Excellent, but also don’t forget the liver too, lad.” He started a careful visual examination of Sirius’ chest. “And what are we looking for here, Trainee Tonks?”

“Cracked or fractured ribs,” he answered confidently.

“Which can lead to a collapsed lung, also known as a tension pneumothorax. What symptoms should we be looking out for?” Charlus quizzed him automatically as he gently palpated Sirius’ chest. He suspected based on the physical evidence of the ferocity of the attack that Sirius had several cracked or broken ribs. He immobilized his chest with a temporary magical strapping, so any broken ribs didn’t cause his lungs to collapse when they moved him. They needed to relocate him inside but first off, it was necessary to examine his back to determine if he’d been kicked there, too.

Knowing that rolling the boy to look at his back would be pure torture for him due to being cursed, despite being unconscious, the healers gently levitated him into the air. They did their best to ignore his moans of pain from the healers’ magic interacting with his skin and nerve ending because they needed to know what they were dealing with. Resolutely Charlus ducked underneath him to examine his back. Stony faced, he indicated that Ted should look too. He tried to ignore the apprentice’s appalled gasp at the sight of the flayed skin on his upper and lower back and thighs and presumably it would the same on his buttocks, he shook his head in disgust.

“In case you are wondering what could possibly inflict this type of damage, Trainee Healer Tonks, what we’re looking at is someone who has been whipped or struck repeatedly with what I believe to be some type of walking stick, possibly a cane. Our patient will need extensive healing work done since there is minimal flesh on the back which will create numerous problems. What are they?” Charlus asked, trying to turn it into a teaching moment to distract the trainee healer from the bloody mess.

“Um…infections and scarring,” Ted offered, watching as Charlus started ever so gently moving Sirius off the stoop. “And healing.”

“Quite right, and healing will be slow.”

He gently levitated him into the salon which was off the entranceway and normally used to receive casual visitors. Fleamont had already provided a bed with a feather-soft mattress and Euphemia had provided a pile of pillows and wonderfully soft cotton bed sheets. Due to his injuries to his front and back, they would need to position him with pillows to keep him resting on his side, particularly to heal his back. It was the worst beating Charlus had ever seen in his healing career and spoke of a perpetrator who possessed enormous anger and cruelty.

Ted Tonks looked at the wizard, who they’d propped on his side with a heap of pillows to prevent him rolling onto his back. “Shouldn’t we send him to St Mungo’s, Healer Potter?”

Charlus looked at him appraisingly. “Probably, but this is the second time in the last few years that he’s been beaten and nearly killed. Until I know who attacked him, I’m reluctant to send him to St Mungos.”

He looked over at his cousin, “Do we know how he arrived on your doorstep?”

“No clue. He got through most of our wards but couldn’t Apparate into the house. I think that our family magic recognises him as family,” Fleamont told him bemusedly. ‘It didn’t let him cross the ward into the house, but it let him side-along Apparate with a muggle onto our property.”

Ted looked astonished. “He side-along apparated a muggle? That is an astonishing feat,” he declared.

James looked curious, “How come, Uncle Charlus?”

Charlus answered. “Because when you side-along a magical person (even if they are too young to Apparate) the person who Apparates them can utilise both their own magic and the passenger’s magic too, which helps to power the spell. A muggle doesn’t have magic and Sirius side-along Apparated them both while he was severely injured, James.”

“Plus, Sirius isn’t an adult, so he doesn’t even have an Apparition license,” Ted pointed out admiringly. When they stared at him, he flushed. “What? Sirius is Andromeda’s cousin. Besides, I was Head Boy; I know how old he is.

Chapter 34

Dorea Potter was emotionally shattered when she’d learnt that Orion and Walburga had ambushed Sirius, physically trying to coerce him into taking Voldemort’s dark mark and become a Death Eater. Of course, Walburga, knew very well who Voldemort was. They had both attended Hogwarts with him back when he was just plain old Tom Riddle, but then again, her niece was as insane as a Blast-Ended Skrewt and about as useful, she concluded, feeling bitchy.

Dorea was even more distraught to learn that Charlus found evidence of previous Cruciatus exposure along with other signs of long-term physical abuse. Her husband had read their magical trace which was a type of magical signature or auric vibration which a few empathically sensitive healers (including her spouse) were able to sense. He’d determined that most of the spells matched Walburga’s magical trace and a second one belonging to a house elf. While Charlus hadn’t been able to identify which house-elf, his wife was positive that it could only be her niece’s vile elf, Kreacher.

She felt positively ill at the thought of them hurting an innocent child. Her son!

It suddenly hit her, and she found herself trying to come to terms with the deeply unpalatable fact that Sirius had been sacrificed so she could marry Charlus and be a mother to Pegasus and Archer. Both children who would never know he was their brother or that they had a second brother in Regulus. What sort of selfish bitch did that make her?

She’d know over the years on an intellectual level that Sirius didn’t have a perfect home life. Her niece and Arcturus’s son weren’t the most likeable individuals, but Regulus seemed to be well-loved. So, she’d tried to justify her actions by rationalising that Sirius was probably just a difficult youngster for them to parent. He was quite rebellious, and he was a very smart boy, was always top of his year. She told herself that the combination would make parenting him challenging, for even the most attentive parent. Besides, she’d made a vow not to reveal her true relationship to Sirius or Regulus, so what was she supposed to do.

What she’d chosen to do was to disengage, to ignore him and Regulus, to focus on Pegasus and Archer.  They were everything a mother could wish for in her children. She focused on her husband, who was an even better wizard than she could have hoped to find and a brilliant healer too. She worked with him sometimes; it made sense to collaborate with him on developing new healing potions, especially since her work had stalled on squibs. It was infuriating to have found the markers in the blood that identified a squib from a wizard or witch with a 99.05 percent efficacy and yet have the Ministry of Magic deem it to be too dangerous to reveal her findings to the general population.

The Ministry had argued that it was highly unlikely that parents would agree to have their babies screened at birth. They also said if they did, that there was a strong possibility that they’d deny the results and not want to give the squib up for adoption, so why bother?

They also contended that even if the result was accepted as accurate by the general population that there was a possibility that it might lead to high rates of parental infanticide and honestly, that was a horrific prospect that Dorea had never even considered. This was why the government wanted more time to investigate the consequences of her breakthrough. Although, on one level she understood their caution it was so frustrating – she had devoted years to this project and to have succeeded and not be able to utilise it for the good of their people felt wrong.

So, she’d turned to another passion project in the last few years, trying to find a way to switch on a squib’s magic because she felt that it might be possible. Muggles were able to cure some forms of blindness with surgery and a scientist had just invented a device called a bionic ear that would allow someone who was deaf to hopefully hear again. Why couldn’t a witch find a way to give back magic to squibs? It could in theory save many of the lines who either had become extinct or were in danger of becoming extinct as birth rates plummeted, life expectancy in pureblood families declined markedly and the incidence of squibs being born increased.

Of course, when Sirius had been attacked at Hogwarts she’d been there, showing concern and family solidarity but that violence wasn’t a reflection of his parents. It did raised a lot of questions in her mind about what was going on in a school that was supposed to be the safest place in the UK for witches and wizards. She’d also thrown herself into making potions and salves to encourage him to heal quickly and fully, despite the devastating effects of frostbite. It was arguable that without her expertise Sirius may not have made a complete recovery.

Dorea had conveniently managed to ignore the fact that his ‘mother and father’ failed to show up even once to St Mungos to check up on him.

But this time, there was no pretending that they were anything but abusive parents to Sirius, forcing a 16-year-old wizard into joining that nut job, Riddle’s Death Eater Army who anyone with half a brain knew was also the former Knights of Walpurgis. The Knights were secret organisation that pretended to be a pseudo chivalric order based up King Arthur Knights of the Round Table. The fact that they went around torturing and killing innocent muggles for supposed crimes committed by other muggles which had occurred decades or centuries before, spoke volumes about the real agenda for Riddle and his bunch of thugs – some of whom were members of her own family.

Chivalry be damned!

~o0o~

When Dorea notified Arcturus of the attack on Sirius, he was livid and returned from Vienna immediately, cutting a swathe of furious retribution through the perpetrators. He’d permanently confined Walburga to Grimmauld Place; she wasn’t allowed to leave except to attend St Mungos in the event of dire medical emergencies, nor could she entertain visitors. However, arguably the harshest penalty he imposed on the witch was to banish Kreacher to his own household, forbidding him to have any future contact with his former Mistress. Not that he wanted the elf, he despised the loathsome little shit, but Arcturus knew that, despite his loyalty to Walburga, he was bound to obey Lord Black first and foremost. It was a case of keeping your enemies close and he was under no illusion that for his part in torturing Sirius, Kreacher was most assuredly Arcturus’ enemy.

Arcturus confiscated all of Orion’s property except for Grimmauld Place and imposed harsh financial penalties on him for his attack on an heir of the House of Black. He told him conspiring to force Sirius to swear allegiance to Tom Riddle which almost resulted in his death, would cost him dearly since he failed to set a proper example. Arcturus informed him he was a deep disappointment and he’d decided to remove him as his heir. Of course, he had removed Orion from the heirship almost a decade before, but he didn’t exactly lie because he didn’t say when he’d decided to strip his son of his inheritance.

He also imposed harsh financial and other penalties on Cygnus, and Bella for being co-conspirators, showing no mercy when they pleaded for leniency trying to excuse their behaviour by claiming that Lord Voldemort forced them to participate. Arcturus was scathing about their pathetic justifications. Selling their souls to a megalomaniac and one who wasn’t even the pureblood he pretended to be, was never going to end well he warned them. The facts were that they’d let an illegitimate son of a muggle, potioned into conceiving him by a witch who was barely more powerful than a squib, deceive them.

If they’d been taken in by him and sworn loyalty to such a vile individual, well more fool them. Now they would wear the consequences. Should they find themselves charged with crimes committed in his name, then they should not expect that the Ancient and Noble House of Black would offer them any protection, financial or otherwise. Quite the opposite in fact. He would disown them.

As Arcturus thought about what had happened, he tried to figure out what Riddle’s motives were. For some reason, Riddle was determined to recruit Sirius; having failed to do so, Arcturus (who was not only a good judge of horseflesh but also of wizards too) knew Tom would blame everyone but himself for his plan going pear-shaped.

In his own mind as well as his followers, the self-proclaimed Lord Voldemort was infallible – therefore blame must inevitably fall upon his minions. Rodolphus Lestrange Senior had already paid the ultimate price for Sirius’ brilliant escape and his rescue of the muggle prisoner, Roger Willis who was slowly but surely recovering in a muggle hospital, having been Obliviated by the Ministry of Magic. The healers’ opinion was that he would never be able to return to work – he was a builder – which as a muggle involved a lot of hard physical activity.

Yet, despite his injuries, Roger Willis was still alive, thanks to his son. His courageous, impetuous, brilliant boy. With some of the funds he’d confiscated from those Black members who were involved, he’d ordered that the money be converted to Muggle currency and given to Willis as compensation for his injuries. His solicitors Mena, Barr, Sted and Associates had set up a family inheritance from a distant relative to ensure that he could live comfortably for the rest of his life.

Arcturus saw how a wizard, not yet having reached his majority had been threatened with having his wand snapped and his magic bound because he had yet to sit for his OWLs and Arcturus wondered how many other young followers had been recruited under similar parental threats. He’d seen how despite being tortured with multiple Cruciate Curses inflicted by that lunatic Riddle; Sirius had not been broken. He watched heartbroken as the young wizard revealed that he’d been physically abused by his mother since he was small and how adroitly he’d managed to divert Riddle from cursing the only person in the room with the power to break him, his younger brother. Arcturus saw how he used his silent casting skills to prevent Roger Willis from further torture in a brilliant and creative way before he managed to get them to safety. Those cretins never realised how he’d manipulated them.

Arcturus saw all of that and more. He witnessed Riddle’s insane reaction when they discovered that Sirius had gotten the better of them and escaped, taking Riddle’s hostage with him too. He saw how Tom blamed Rodolphus Lestrange Sr for Sirius brilliant escape. Saw him screaming mindless filth at the Death Eater before casting the killing curse at him. Saw how instead of blaming him for their father’s death, his sons, Rodolphus and Rabastan agreed with him being made the scapegoat. He saw how the utter capriciousness of him assigning blame and retribution to Lestrange which realistically could have been ascribed to any one of them, made his other followers fall swiftly into line.

It made him realise that despite any punitive actions he as Head of the House of Black might mete out to them, Orion, Cygnus, and Bella had anchored themselves to Voldemort/Riddle come what may, because he would not brook defectors.  Arcturus saw all that and much more, all through the eyes of his youngest son, Regulus. As part of the penalties imposed on him, he’d insisted that Regulus shared his memory of what had gone that night at his Uncle Cygnus’ home via a Pensieve.

What he saw was that almost 20 years ago he’d been such an imbecile, honestly believing that he could be the puppet master and maintain control over Riddle. He thought he could use Riddle’s short-lived crusade against muggles and muggle-born wizards and witches who would overwhelm and subsume the diminishing purebloods to redress the balance before he was arrested by the DMLE. Arcturus had been wrong, grossly underestimated him, or overestimated the Ministry of Magic to bring him to heel. The irony was that Riddle would, unless stopped, decimate a pureblood family much quicker than the muggle-borns would do.

Riddle was an existential threat to the wizarding world and the muggle one too. Since his financial support two decades ago had helped his rise to power, Arcturus must bear some of the responsibility for what had happened. It was patently clear that he needed to fix the mess he’d helped create. He needed to protect Sirius at all costs. Giving him to Orion and that batshit crazy Walburga to raise as their own son had been a huge mistake, he could see that now.

Arcturus decreed that Orion and Walburga never attempt to have any further contact with Sirius; from this point on he would be living with Fleamont and Euphemia Potter who’d offered to become his legal guardians. His first instinct had been that when he was well, Sirius would move into Blackwood Manor and Arcturus and Melania would become his guardians. However, as much as he wanted his son living under his roof after everything that had happened to him – the systemic abuse he’d endured by his parents being uppermost in his mind, common sense had thankfully prevailed.

He wasn’t oblivious to the fact that his wife was ambivalent about the sons he’d conceived with Dorea, even if she seemed a little more comfortable around Pegasus on the rare occasions that they interacted. He was also almost certain that Sirius was aware of her lukewarm attitude to himself and Regulus who was (as far Sirius knew) his grandmother. It was hard not to miss how she related to her other grandchildren – the twins and little Gemini versus her emotional detachment to Sirius and Regulus.

Knowing the unbearable tension that it would cause for his wife and his son he knew that it was a much better option to let Fleamont and Euphemia become his official guardians. They already knew him and seemed very fond of him and an important factor was that they had always wanted a lot of children, but fate had decreed it otherwise. He would be given a loving home there, that was assuming that Sirius pulled through, which was still not a given at this point. It was looking more hopeful with every passing day that he would recover, but he was still in an induced coma from the time he’d landed on the Potter’s front portico.

By not taking him in, it also had the advantage of authenticating Walburga’s precipitous act of disowning her son, blasting him off the family tree tapestry when he supposedly brought dishonour on the family by escaping Riddle’s clutches. Of course, just because he’d disappeared from the tapestry didn’t make the disownment a reality, as 16 years ago, Arcturus had swapped the real magical family tapestry for the fake one. In fact, not only was Sirius still his heir, he’d long ago replaced Orion, but Arcturus had decided not to apprise him of that fact, until now. It was Arcturus’ hope that by believing that Sirius was disowned, Orion and Walburga would assume that the next Lord Black was Regulus. He was counting on that misinformation to keep both boys safe!

Most of the purebloods would view Regulus as the obvious choice to be heir anyway. He was the obedient son, but Arcturus saw a follower and not a leader who’d been sorted into Slytherin. Twenty years ago, Lord Black probably would see him as the most appropriate wizard to take up the Lordship upon his death, but not now. Arcturus could see that Sirius had the leadership qualities and courage to do what was right (as opposed to what was easy) and lead the Ancient and Noble House of Black into the future by NOT subjugating their house to the maniacal ravings of Tom Riddle.

It was Arcturus and Dorea’s hope and plan that Riddle would lose interest in Sirius if he believed that he was no longer in line to become Lord Black. Of course, that presupposed that his interest in Sirius was a political one. Watching Regulus’ Pensieve memories of that night many times, it had not failed to register that of all the cowards in the room, Rodolphus Lestrange Jr had shown empathy and, disturbingly, desire for Sirius. Perhaps Riddle also desired him or in a more likely scenario, he would use his son to control Rodolphus which was deeply troubling.

What was far more likely was that Riddle wants to recruit him because he was excellent at brewing complex potions, which, when you considered who his real mother was, was not surprising. Coupled with his knowledge of the Dark Arts, he could see how Riddle would wish to recruit him. Arcturus would need to ensure that in case Riddles motives weren’t political, that they provided him with ironclad security measures to keep him safe.

Another definite advantage to Sirius staying with the Potters was that Dorea was looking forward to spending time getting to know her eldest son properly. Dorea, Charlus, Pip and Archer already spent a lot of time with Fleamont, Euphemia and James. Sirius becoming their ward meant she would automatically get to see a lot more of him without anyone becoming suspicious. Of course, Arcturus would have to act as if he had been disowned and that would involve a degree of sacrifice on his part to sell their scam. He would continue to support him financially, but he would have to do so via a trusted proxy – in this case, it would be Walburga’s brother Alphard.

Although he didn’t know why Arcturus was always so interested in Orion’s sons, Alphard was happy to continue as his emissary. He’d long been close to the youngster – Arcturus reckoned he was probably more of a father to him than Orion ever had been. Sometimes as he pursued his guilt-ridden examination of what had gone wrong, he’d wondered if Orion and Walburga had been lousy parents to Sirius because at some intuitive level they recognised that he wasn’t truly their son and resented him. Then he would remind himself that neither was Regulus and yet they positively doted on him – he was the favourite son.

~o0o~

At the end of the Easter break for the Marauder’s final term of their fifth year, they returned to school on the Hogwarts Express, short one of their own. Sirius wasn’t recovered enough to make the trip or attend classes. His back was still healing and Charlus continued to confine him to bed, with short periods when he was permitted to be propped up on a sofa with a pile of pillows to protect his back. Several times a day, he endured having a special amped up healing cream with anti-scarring properties which had been brewed by Dorea Potter especially for him, rubbed his back, bum, and thighs.

Normally such a treatment protocol would be nothing more than a minor inconvenience but the effects of being Cruciated by Voldemort, an immensely powerful and merciless wizard, had left his nerve endings supersensitised. Coupled with his Apparition feat, it left him constantly feeling exhausted beyond what he thought possible. Charlus insisted that he still needed to rest and to feel safe so he could fully recover from his ordeal.

The fact that it gave Euphemia and Dorea plenty of opportunities to pamper and dote on him was something that neither of his favourite older witches would dream of complaining about, although Sirius was feeling awkward with all the fuss. He dealt much better with less physically demonstrative attention from Fleamont, Charlus and his Uncle Alphard. Believing that he’d been disowned by the family, Alphard continuing to visit him as he recovered from the failed recruitment into the Death Eaters, which meant the world to the young wizard. As did the offer by James’ parents to let him join their family and become a brother to James.

Of course, although James’ parents had no idea that James and Sirius were pack members and considered themselves brothers, Fleamont and his wife felt it was a no-brainer to let him stay with them. They’d explained to him that he’d been able to Apparate past the Potter wards, something which only family could do; therefore, magic already saw him as family, even if their blood ties were negligible. The fact was that they all regarded him as kin.

Of course, even if there were no kinship ties, he thought it likely that they would still have been eager to offer him a home. They explained to him that they both adored children and had hoped to have a large brood of kids. While he was hardly a child anymore, he’d been staying with them ever since his second year at Hogwarts and knew they were good people.

He overheard them talking one night, although much later when he thought about it, he wondered  if it might have been a deliberate ploy to avoid making them all uncomfortable.

Fleamont had said as they were walking up to his room to check on him, “Are you sure about him staying, Euphemia?”

“Of course, my love. Despite his rather impressive set of emotional masks, the I’m a rebel, everything’s fine and the I can take care of myself, which he needs to wear to feel safe, sometimes there is the briefest of glimpses of a confused and angry boy who just craves love, affection and a safe-haven.”

Fleamont sighed, “All of which we can give him, Love.”

“Precisely, plus, he and James are devoted to each other. Even more so this year. How could I not love him already, Darling?”

“At first, I wondered if they were sexual attracted to each other,” Fleamont confessed to his wife, making Sirius squirm in embarrassment, “They seem so close. Yet James seemed as smitten as ever for his unrequited love, Miss Lily Evans as he was in his first year of school. So, I think that we can dismiss the notion of James and Sirius being romantically involved.”

Euphemia agreed. “James is disturbingly obsessed with Lily in my opinion, just as Pip is with Sirius. I’m not sure what caused the boys’ relationship to intensify, Fleamont, but I am sure that giving Sirius a home will not upset our relationship with James.

Her husband agreed with her as they entered what had become Sirius’ room, a large cheery, light-filled room which like the rest of the Potter home was the antithesis of the gloom and depressing Grimmauld Place, scene of many of his harrowing memories. Truthfully, this did feel like a haven to the still injured young wizard.

Dreadfully embarrassed by what he’d just heard, Sirius avoided the discomfort by pretended to be asleep.

Padfoot wanted to hide his head under the pillow!

Chapter 35

May 1975 (End of the Marauders fifth year)

It had been six weeks since school had resumed, and the Marauders were feeling a little bit lost without Sirius. There had already been one full moon without him, and Remus’ wolf was feeling antsy that their nascent pack wasn’t together. Moony was also unsettled because he couldn’t confirm that Sirius was going to recover.

It wasn’t an ideal situation for the unorthodox pack but there was no choice but to deal with his absence as best they could. This was why, while they were waiting for him to recuperate and return to Hogwarts, they’d thrown themselves into completing the communication mirrors, hoping to have them ready when Sirius returned. They were conscious of the fact that if he’d had one over the Easter holiday, he would have been able to call for help.

Although they knew that his family had tried to force him to join the Death Eaters, no one really knew how he had been so gravely injured that he was missing weeks of school. Not even James could tell them much, when he’d returned to school, Sirius was still in an induced coma and he hadn’t had an opportunity to talk to him. No one had, but his Aunt Dorea had determined that he had been disowned by his parents after he disrespected the individual known as Lord Voldemort who it turned out was really some tosser called Tom Riddle.

None of the Marauders could understand how his family could put their son into such a perilous situation that it could have cost him his life. It was beyond their comprehension that a parent could do something so terrible. But James told them that he’d somehow managed to save a muggle by side-along Apparating him to James’ home, after swearing them to secrecy about the Apparation since he didn’t have a license. They’d been monumentally proud but not shocked, Sirius was intensely loyal and would never leave an innocent person behind.

Meanwhile, Regulus had been acting like a dick – telling his fellow Slytherins that Sirius had been disowned from the Ancient and Noble House of Black for cowardice and bringing dishonour upon his family. His brother’s crime, according to the pompous git was that Sirius had slighted Lord Voldemort, refusing his invitation to join his Army of supporters, thus bringing their family into disrepute by blaspheming the Dark Lord.

Rabastan Lestrange went even further. He accused Sirius of murdering his father.

It also hadn’t escaped the Marauder’s notice that since the beginning of this year, even though he was several years ahead of Regulus and Rabastan, Severus Snape had taken to hanging out with them. Since returning to Hogwarts after the Easter break there were rumours that Lord Voldemort was trying to recruit him to their ranks and Barty Crouch Junior was being targeted too. Barty Junior was the son of the Minister of Magic would be a feather in his cap, but most people discounted the rumour, saying it was too fantastic to be true.

The Marauders and the Ankle Biters had discussed the rumour at length. According to Pandora Abbott, Barty was a good student who was desperate to earn his father’s love and attention.

Remus said sceptically, “Wouldn’t joining the Death Eaters rather defeat the object of Barty impressing his father, though?”

Panda gave him a measured look.” For those of us who have a healthy relationship with their fathers, most definitely, it would, Remus. For individuals who don’t, sometimes even negative attention like disapproval, anger, disgust is better than being ignored.”

Peter looked at her as if she had said something ridiculous. “That dumb, Panda. Why would anyone want to make their dad angry? I’d do anything to avoid getting punished. My dad stays mad for days and he gives me his I’m so disappointed in you, speech. It’s torture!”

Pandora shrugged, “As I said, you have a normal relationship with your father. Minister Crouch ignores his son. If he can’t make him proud then Barty Junior might settle for humiliating him, even if it makes his father despise him.”

Frowning as he tried to understand this point of view, James wondered how Panda’s theory fitted with Sirius and his waste of space father. He hoped that his Uncle Alphard had always been there for him would make a difference, not to mention that his mum and dad had taken him in. Remembering the message that his Dad and send via owl at breakfast, he grinned at the Ravenclaw.

“Hey, did I tell you that Dad said Sirius will be back at Hogwarts for the half-term holiday?”

She smiled at the excited Gryffindor. “Um, you might have mentioned it once or twice, James,” she told him teasingly.

“More like at least, five times in the last couple of hours,” Remus said wryly although he was probably just as excited if not more so since his dual nature meant after the Marauders completed their Animagus transformations, Moony viewed them as members of his pack and felt ridiculously protective of them. The wolf was chaffing that he hadn’t been able to physically reassure himself that Sirius was fine…well not fine, he wasn’t fine obviously since he would be here with them, if he were fine but still, Padfoot was alive.

James chuckled, “Well, I can’t help being excited that he’s coming back, especially since he’s going to be my brother now, as well a part of our pack… of Marauders,” he said awkwardly. He’d momentarily forgotten that Pandora didn’t know about them being Animagi.

Pandora gave an enigmatic grin and said, “It’s going to be so good to have him back again.”

~o0o~

Sirius returned to Hogwarts, accompanied by Fleamont and Euphemia Potter. As they exited the floo into the headmaster’s office, Dumbledore welcomed them, his eyes twinkling madly as they brushed off the ashes from the fireplace. James and Professor McGonagall were also there waiting to greet the trio as they arrived. Since the Potters were Sirius’ legal guardians now, there was paperwork for them to sign and James was eager to finally be able to talk to Sirius, who was now his parents’ ward. The last time they’d talked had been when they said goodbye to each other at Kings Cross Station after alighting from the Hogwarts Express at Easter.

After hugging his parents and them hugging an awkward-looking Sirius and telling him if he needed anything at all, to owl them, the two Marauders had been dismissed. Leaving Dumbledore’s domain, they descended the spiral stairs passing the gargoyle and the suit of armour as James filled him in on what had been going on in his absence. He immediately noticed that Sirius seemed different, less relaxed.

“What’s up Pads. Are you okay?”

Sirius nodded. “How ‘bout you? Are you okay with your parents’ becoming my guardians, James? It will only be until November when I’m seventeen. I’ll find somewhere to live and be out of your hair by then.”

James looked at him incredulously, “Don’t be a git. Of course, I’m okay with Mum and Dad being your guardian, you idiot. They always wanted to have a quidditch team of little wizards, witches, and squibs but in the end, I was something of a miracle. Probably why I was spoilt rotten,” he said with rare candour.

“I honestly don’t mind sharing them with you and you don’t need to move out when you’re seventeen either, any more than I would need to. The Potter Manor is your home now, you mangy old dog,” he teased the usually irrepressible and now unusually serious wizard.

“I don’t want to put you or your parents in danger, Prongs. There are a bunch of people who are pretty pissed at me,” he confessed. “It might be better if everyone gives me a wide berth at school,” he suggested wryly.

“Not gonna happen, Mate. And they’re all waiting for us down by the lake,” he said. “They can’t wait to see you. Even Phineas is waiting to see you.”

“But I’m betting that doesn’t include Regulus,” he said bitterly as James tried to figure out what to say.

“Nuh didn’t think so.”

Deciding that distraction was the best offence, as he led his friend down the stairs to the grounds of the school. James pulled out two shrunken brooms from his robes and resized them. “Let’s drop in on them from the air, they won’t be expecting us to arrive by broom. Besides, I knew you couldn’t wait to get on your broom again.”

James didn’t notice how gingerly Sirius mounted his broom, or how cautiously he flew down to the Black Lake because he was too busy flying in his usual daredevil fashion, trying to dispel the utter relief he was feeling to have his best mate back at Hogwarts. He didn’t stop to think that his friend should not have been riding, mostly because he just wanted everything to get back to normal. This term had felt weird without Sirius – like there was a huge hole and he was only glad that with his friend and fellow Marauder back at school where he belonged, that big black hole would finally be filled.

The truth was that nothing had gone right this term, Moony was irritable and moody – even when it hadn’t been a full moon. It seemed that Remus’ wolf didn’t like it when the pack wasn’t together. Peter was nervous and jumpy, no doubt due to Moony’s short temper and his readiness to snap at people – sometimes James wondered how Peter had ended up a Gryffindor. Perhaps the Sorting Hat wasn’t infallible, even if it was a magical artefact created by the Hogwarts’ Founders.

Wormtail was also obsessed with knowing what had happened to Sirius…although, weren’t they all? But he seemed quite desperate to know and James wondered if it was just morbid curiosity or something more.

Meanwhile, he was feeling totally out of sorts all term. He missed having Sirius at quidditch practices and the match against Hufflepuff had been far too close for comfort without his fellow chaser. It didn’t occur to him that Sirius might not be able to play quidditch this term, even though he was back at school.

Plus, he was still reeling from his fight with Snivellus that had somehow ended up with Lily furious with him because he’d stood up for her. He still didn’t understand how Snape taunting them about Sirius being disowned for being a coward had led to him having such an ugly fight with Lily.

They were down at the lake a couple of weeks ago when Snivellus had come along with his new best buddies, Regulus Black, Rabastan Lestrange and Barty Crouch who were all several years his junior. Tagging along like a couple of stray dogs, were some of Snape’s fellow fifth years who he normal hung around with. The odious Nevus Avery and Linus Mulciber hung out on the periphery, no doubt hoping to be invited to share the rarefied oxygen with the chosen ones – reputed to be on Voldemort’s wish list.

Those poor simpletons never figured out that although they might be purebloods, they would always be destined to be just the brawns, never the brains. Neither wizard was particularly intelligent nor gifted but like most Slytherins, were highly entitled and ambitious berks. Basically, they believed they were Merlin’s gift to the magical world.

James thought it was rather odd that Snape was hanging out with a bunch of third years, but as Pandora had pointed out later, Regulus and Rabastan, while too young to have become Death Eaters, had already gained entry to his inner circle via their family connections. It also seemed likely that they’d been tasked by Voldemort with recruiting Barty and Snape to the cause. Amongst Death Eater families it was well known that the Blacks and Lestranges were trusted associates of Lord Voldemort. Suddenly Snivellus and Barty Crouch were getting a lot of prestige from their fellow Slytherins just from hanging out with them.

Pandora said that Severus had always felt like he was constantly looked down upon by his fellow Slytherins because he wasn’t a pureblood, which was true. She said that he craved acceptance and wanted to receive their respect and esteem. James had snorted when she said that because of course, Snape wanted respect, who didn’t but the irony was that Snivellus would never have it. The pureblood supremacists genuinely believed that everyone who wasn’t of pure blood to be inferior to themselves.

Since they thought muggles had dirty blood – anyone who had muggle blood in their lineage (including Severus Snape) was automatically thought to be substandard. Nothing he did or said would ever change that view because he came from the union of a pureblood witch (Eileen Prince) who rejected her lineage to marry a mudblood named Tobias Snape.

Frankly, James couldn’t figure out how Snivellus would, even for one second want to hang around with such arrogant and stupid fools as those Slytherin supremacists. Why would he want to crawl and debase himself with bigoted and cruel elitists when all the time they secretly despised who and what he was. It was sadly pathetic, and he found himself almost pitying the poor deluded fool. If he wanted respect, then he’d sorted into the wrong house.

He didn’t understand it, but if Snivellus was so dumb that he was willing to brown-nose to a bunch of blood supremacists, James supposed that it was his business. BUT he wasn’t going to let that arsehole call Sirius a blood traitor and a coward, either. He’d sent a stinging hex at him, telling him angrily that Sirius had more courage in his little finger than any of the Slytherins would ever possess and to stop insulting him or he would be sorry.

Then it had been on! James and Severus were exchanging curses and insults while Lily Evans screamed at them to stop. Both wizards turned a deaf ear to her pleas, too fired up with a mutual hatred of each other that had started five years before for them to stop their duel. Even without the issue of jealousy over Lily, they would never have been anything other than natural enemies. James was everything that Severus aspired to be, respected, pureblood, good looking and well-loved by his parents and friends; secure in his identity even when he was a prat sometimes.  Snape was everything James despised, a toady to the blood supremacists, a wizard that was smart enough to know that there was no factual basis for their elitist bigotry, who refused to speak up for muggles because he was insecure and desperate to be respected.

Eventually, James had gained the upper hand over Snape, levitating him into the air and flipping him upside down, revealing his underwear to all and sundry. The Gryffindor freely admitted he did it to humiliate him; James loathed Snivellus and always had and the feeling was reciprocated.  If he had an opening, Snape would have humiliated him just as quickly or the other Marauders too. Snape hated Remus because he and Lily were friends, jealous of their relationship as Lily admired the shy smart wizard. When Lily and Remus had become Gryffindor’s fifth-year prefects, his jealousy soared, and he became even more possessive of Lily while treating her like shit.

Around the same time as Lily and Remus became prefects, he’d became increasingly disparaging of other muggle-born students. Sometimes joining Nevus Avery and Linus Mulciber in using the highly offensive mudblood epithet on occasion, although not about Lily. She didn’t approve of course, but she was yet to call him on it, either. Not properly.

Fifth year had also seen Snape became obsessed with spying on the Marauders. He followed them around, looking for ways to get them into trouble or expelled. He took the whole destroy your enemy philosophy seriously. Aside from James and Snape’s mutual hatred, right from the start he had been more than ready to insult Sirius for being a blood traitor. It was as if he despised him on principle for having everything Snape longed for: money, pureblood status, power. What he seemed unable to accept was that Sirius chose to reject as meaningless, all those things which Snape longed to possess.

This term in his friend’s absence because he nearly died…again, Snivellus had dramatically upped the ante, gleefully repeating Rabastan and Regulus’ accusations that Sirius was a coward and a murderer. Of course, James and his close friends knew that Sirius had saved the life of a muggle who was being tortured by Voldemort. He’d escaped the clutches of Voldemort, who spineless witches and wizard had started calling He Who Must Not Be Named, and he’d rescued an dying muggle Voldemort had abducted and tortured. Padfoot was a bloody hero!

Voldemort had killed Rabastan’s father, Rodolphus Sr to punish him for letting Sirius escape with the muggle. Sirius did not kill Senior – he’d saved Roger Willis. Snivellus knew that; he’d been given details that not even James was privy to regarding Sirius’ ordeal. He took great delight in mocking Sirius every chance he got, describing him as a weakling, and calling into question his courage and character. However, James freely admitted that it was the taunt that Sirius was a murderer that sent him over the edge of reason. How. Dare. He!

Sirius was worth ten Slytherins. Rodolphus Lestrange Senior had no one to blame for his death but himself for deciding to follow an insane tyrannical monster. However, even as he found a cruel satisfaction in Snivellus’ mortification hanging upside down with his underwear on display, James realised that he was acting no better than the Slytherins and let him down, ashamed.

Lily turned on him, berating him for being an arrogant bully, and he supposed that from her perspective, he was!  Yet apart from James’ childish dislike of Snape, there were factors at play that a muggle didn’t…couldn’t understand. Not really.

For instance,  a muggle couldn’t comprehend the deeply ingrained antipathy between Lions and Snakes that had existed pretty much since Hogwarts’ inception by the founders. It was fuelled by intergenerational enmity which existed between the pureblood supremacists and egalitarians, effectively placing them on opposite sides of a bitter class war. Ironically, James family although pureblood espoused an egalitarian agenda while Snape, although a half-blood was a rabid pureblood supremacist.

As Lily screamed at him, accusing him of bullying Snape, she also failed to understand that she was effectively emasculating her so-called childhood friend in the presence of his Slytherin associates. Associates who he longed to impress and gain their friendship and respect. Having a muggle stand up for him like he was a weak victim was not the image he wished to portray.

While Lily had been shocked to her core when he turned on her, “Telling her he didn’t need a mudblood to defend him,” James was not surprised at all.

As Sirius said on many occasions, it was inevitable when Severus entered Slytherin that one day he would be forced to choose between his friendship with her or his status as a member of Slytherin. These last few months had given him a taste of what it would mean to be perceived as someone Voldemort wanted to recruit, his status had increased dramatically. No doubt he liked it, but it was also forcing him to make a choice, which he did, finally. He’d turned on Lily, his childhood friend and the red-headed witch looked as if Snape had just Avada Kedavra’ed her pet puppy.

Although Snape tried to apologise to her later when his Slytherin associates were absent, Lily was done with him. For years she’d defended him to her Gryffindor friends and classmates. She’d made excuses for him because of his neglectful and violent muggle father, insisting that he was a smart, kind, and good person. She’d even turned a blind eye to the occasions when he disparaged other muggle-borns by using the highly offensive mudblood insult.

James suspected that she would likely rationalise that he would never treat her that way…until he did.

After that, Lily delivered him an ultimatum; his friendship with her or the Slytherin purebloods. Predictably, he’d refused to dump his newfound friends or Voldemort, so Lily dumped their friendship. While she was done with Snape, she was furious with James too, as only a redhead could hold a grudge. Meanwhile, he was still smarting from the dressing down she’d delivered him, even if some of it was deserved.

Although, even if he had been a prat, he noted that she hadn’t lectured Snivellus regarding him gloating about Voldemort torturing Sirius this term. That struck him as more than a little hypocritical. As much as he was shattered by her stubborn refusal to talk to him for over three weeks and counting, he was relieved to know that she wasn’t a perfect paragon of virtue. The fact was she was guilty of inequality and lack of logic when it came to what she would and wouldn’t accept.

As they landed on the shore of Black Lake, James was happy to see their friends all welcoming their friend back amongst them. Prongs had missed Padfoot terribly.

~o0o~

After everyone had hugged Sirius, shaken hands, given him a slap on the back or kissed him on the cheek, he’d agreed somewhat reluctantly to tell them what had happened to him over Easter because there were so many rumours that it was ridiculous. But it was on the condition that he was only going to do so once. When Sirius noticed that Lily was missing, he frowned, wondering where she was and asked Pip if she could fetch her. If he noticed that everyone was acting weird when he mentioned her name, he didn’t let on. While they were waiting, Sirius asked them to fill him in on what had been happening while he was away.

Pip arrived back with Lily and if Sirius noticed the tension between her and James, he didn’t comment. Inviting everyone to sit and get comfortable, he lowered himself cautiously to the ground. He spoke dispassionately about how his father and mother had tried to force him to take Voldemort’s Dark Mark that necessitated he murder a muggle.

He saw Lily’s devastated expression and he said gently, “I sorry Lily, but every Death Eater had to torture and kill a muggle. It cements their loyalty to Voldemort so they can’t easily defect and betray him.”

He described how he’d been Cruciated several times by Voldemort before he’d been beaten twice by Lucius Malfoy, first with his cane and then had the shit kicked out of him with his dragon-skin clad boots. He told them how his cousin Bella forced him to drink a toxic potion that made him cramp, vomit and soil himself and Panda, Gemini, Pip, and Lily all cried. Remus and James looked like they wanted to go to war!

They listened in silent horror as he described how Voldemort tortured a muggle in front of him to break him, telling him that the muggle was going to die soon so he would be doing him a favour if he put him out of his misery. He didn’t mention that the muggle (whose name he hadn’t even known at that time) had begged Sirius to kill him because he was going crazy with the pain.

He told them how they’d been left alone for a couple of minutes, and Sirius had side-along Apparated the muggle to Potter Manor where he collapsed unconscious.

“How did you Apparate through the wards?” Lily wanted to know, ever the logical witch, hungry for knowledge.

He shrugged, “I’m a Black. I assumed that the wards weren’t set to stop members of the House of Black from coming and going,” he guessed. Truthfully, he didn’t care – maybe magic recognised he was trying to save the life of an innocent and turned a blind eye to warding etiquette and physics.

“Maybe the dungeon wasn’t warded,” Fabian Prewitt suggested.

Sirius held up his hands in a universal, I haven’t got a clue gesture and said, “That would be exceptional stupid but then we are dealing with a bunch of incompetents. The room used to be a wine cellar so it could have been an oversight, I suppose. A case of, I thought you’d done it. No, I thought you’d done it.”

Sirius’ featured hardened as he shrugged, “Who knows!”

He returned to his story – him passing out dramatically on James’ doorstep and then waking up three weeks later after they brought him out of the induced coma. He told them about finding out that he was disowned and had new guardians and discovering he was weak as a day old kneazle kitten.

“I spent another month recovering before being allowed to return to Hogwarts with a list of activities I’m prohibited from doing, because of my back taking so long to heal, he concluded, emotionally and physically exhausted by having to talk about it.

Gideon Prewitt asked him softly, “All that stuff about Voldemort not being a pureblood wizard. Was that the truth?”

The two older Prewitt Twins exchanged sombre glances. In a few short weeks, they would be graduating and entering the Auror Training Programme – they intended to help protect civilians from Lord Voldemort.

Sirius nodded, “Yep.”

Fabian regarded him incredulously. “And you did side-along Apparate a muggle to Jamie’s place?”

Sirius shrugged, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Phineas looked ill. “And Regulus and Rabastan were there as well?”

“They were, Phin, but I don’t know if they had any say in the matter or not.”

Gemini, Pandora, Lily and Pip were speaking quietly, and Pandora asked, “Where’s the list of things you’re banned from doing, Siri?”

He looked at them, considered lying before sighing and handing over the parchment from his pocket. They read it carefully before Pip cast a Bat-Bogey Hex at her cousin James.

“You plonker, Siri isn’t supposed to be flying on a broom. What were you thinking, James?”

Everyone watched in enthralled revulsion as Pip’s hex caused James’ bogies to swell swiftly to the size of small bats, grow wings and began to attack his face, prompting him to yell at the pain. After several seconds of shocked rubbernecking, the group erupted into good-natured if ribald joshing and taunts as James was punished for allowing Sirius to ride his broom.

“I didn’t know, okay,” the besieged wizard yelled at his cousin. As he tried unsuccessfully to bat the bogies away.

Pip looked across at Sirius who was trying not to look amused. “It’s true, Pip. It wasn’t his fault.”

Waiting for a few more seconds to torture her cousin, Pip reluctantly reversed the curse and let him off the hook, “You need to stop and think before you act,” she scolded him.

James looked sheepish, Lily looked a little less angry and he nodded repentantly.

~o0o~

The others gradually drifted away, tacitly acknowledging that Sirius needed to reconnect with the three Marauders, and he needed some privacy. When they were finally alone, James dropped a badly wrapped parcel with miniature Padfoots barking at him.

He looked at the other Marauders quizzically. “What’s this?”

Peter chuckled nervously. “Open it,” he instructed Sirius.

Ripping open the paper he found a round mirror. Raising his eyebrows, he looked at his fellow Marauders, “Is this what I think it is?”

Remus nodded. “Yeah, James pointed out that if you’d had a communication mirror, you could have called for help. So, while you were lying around,” he teased Sirius, “We’ve been busting our bums getting them functioning.”

Sirius grinned. “Awesome, guys. So do we all have one?”

James nodded. “Yeah, but we were thinking that we should try to make more for everyone who was down at the lake today.”

Sirius smiled. “Having gotten up close and personal with the Death Eaters, I think it’s going to just get more and more dangerous for anyone who opposes them. Can we make sure that the first mirrors we make are for Gideon, Fabian, Frank, and Alice?

“Agreed, and one for Lily Evans,” James said wistfully. “They’ll target Muggles as well as Aurors.”

Sirius had picked up the tension between James and Lily and decided to ask Remus about it later when it was just the two of them. “Let’s do it, Marauders.”

The rest of the term was spent preparing for their OWLS and charming five communication mirrors for their friends. Meanwhile Lily seemed to have had a nasty wake-up call after hearing what happened to Sirius at the hands of his ‘family,’ and had thawed a little in her attitude to James.

Thank Merlin for small mercies!

Chapter 36

17th March 1976

Dorea Potter looked around her at her small, cluttered office in the Department of Mysteries. She was frustrated. Normally when she was worried, her work became her refuge and distraction, even if she was working on something boring and mundane for her boss, Professor Saul Croaker. Croaker’s area of expertise was time travel, particularly the use of Time-turners and even before assuming responsibility for the department he’d been obsessed with the dangers of careless or frivolous time travel. Now as Head Unspeakable, he was responsible for all research in the department.

When requests came in from other department heads for urgently needed research, all Unspeakables were expected to drop what they were working on and deal with the urgent demand. Once the project was complete, researchers would drift back to their own pet projects, often not seeing any of their colleagues for days, even weeks, if they desired. Apart from interacting with their boss of course. The truth was that most, but not all Unspeakables were by nature introverts who preferred living inside their own heads, but in times of crisis they all could function as part of a well-oiled machine; they just mostly preferred to work alone.

In a way, her boss had collaborated with her on her seminal research into identifying Squib markers in the blood, enabling healers to recognise squibs from birth, even if the results were still classified. It was with his help and his ultimate approval that she’d been able to work on average, an extra twenty hours per week on her research since he’d signed off on her use of a time-turner from Mondays to Fridays. That extra research time had really added up, amounted all up to almost four thousand extra hours of research. Croaker had flatly refused to authorise any more hours since his law known universally as Croaker’s Law stated that, ‘The furthest someone can go back in time without the possibility of serious harm to the traveller or time itself is five hours,’ but even though she wanted more, he was firm in his refusal.

While she had been furious with him at the time, now she was grateful since his later work showed that wizards and witches who abused the use of time turners by ignoring Croaker’s Law all died premature deaths, mostly succumbing to aneurysms that happened too suddenly for the individual to call for help. When Charlus had found out about what she had done, he was furious and had ordered regular scans to check for the presence of aneurysms. Now almost two decades later she had to admit that she was grateful that Saul had been so cautious and stubborn. Nevertheless, Charlus had ruled out her use of time turners on anything other than a one-off basis, or for life and death investigations. He’d made sure that her boss was aware of the risks too.

Once upon a time, Dorea would be furious with her husband for imposing such restrictive regulations on her but as Pip and Archer grew and flourished, she imagined how it would be if she were to die prematurely due to her work. When the children were little, she thought that a mother’s love and attention was vital and that as they grew older, her influence became less critical. Now that they were becoming more independent, she realised that her influence was still as important, just that it had changed.

With their world gripped by the blood war that seemed inevitable, thanks to a crazy despot out for revenge for his terrible childhood, it appeared that her presence and Charlus’ in their children’s lives was even more essential. Or perhaps it was just that she was greedy and didn’t want to miss key milestones in Pip and Archer’s lives. She certainly didn’t want to miss the opportunity of getting to know them as the awesome adults she was certain that they would be, even when they didn’t depend upon their parents anymore.

As she thought about the coming war, she couldn’t stop thinking about Tom Riddle, the boy she’d attended Hogwarts with and now threaten their prosperity. It was clear that he was spoiling for a fight with the muggle world, blaming muggles for his miserable childhood. Even back at school Tom had a massive chip on his shoulder, he was imperious and cruel, but to blame the muggles for his unfortunate life? That seemed quite misguided; if anyone were to blame for him ending up unwanted and unloved, it surely should be laid at the feet of his mother with her massive case of pureblood entitlement.

She misguidedly thought it was fine, setting out to trap a wealthy muggle landowner using love potions. She’d raped Riddle Sr. to become pregnant and then clearly deluded, thought he would just fall into line and marry her when she stopped giving him a love potion. Dorea couldn’t understand how she could have not expected the man to react any differently than to reject her and her unborn child, yet clearly, she had. Tom Riddle Jr. should be fighting against pure-blood supremacists whose beliefs and values had made Merope Gaunt believe that it was permissible for her to commit such heinous crimes against a muggle purely because of her line.

The Dark Lord as he had taken to calling himself, was so full of hate for anything muggle, that he was forcing the wizarding world into a fight with muggles that must be stopped at any cost and yet muggles had looked after him for the first eleven years of his life. She was sure he wouldn’t have had an easy life growing up in an orphanage, but they had fed and clothed him. Orphans were clearly disadvantaged but it wasn’t as if he was the only child to grow up in a muggle orphanage.

While Tom viewed muggles as weak and vulnerable, Dorea working at the DOM knew that individually, they might not be a match for a wizard (unless they were armed) collectively, they greatly outnumbered magical folk and easily outmatched them. She knew they had weapons that could wipe out hundreds of thousands of their own kind with one single explosion; they had potions that could kill large numbers of people and they could quite easily wipe out wizarding Britain. This was why the Unspeakables were currently looking for ways to defeat Riddle/ Lord Voldemort before his madness cost them everything.

It was probably inevitable as she considered the current scourge of the magical UK, that Dorea’s thought turned to her two older sons. After the abuse and neglect Sirius had endured growing up, along with the rejection of his family,  she’d been concerned that  it might turn him into another Dark Lord, bent on retribution? She hoped not. Having spent a lot of time at Potter Manor where he recuperated from Riddle’s abortive attempt to recruit him into the Death Eater corps, she realized he was amazingly clever and had to be quite powerful to have escaped.

He was also very skilled in wearing masks that proclaimed him to be cocky, self-centred, and arrogant, but his actions in trying to save an almost dead muggle when it would have been much easier just to save himself said otherwise. His veneer of jokes and pranking people was also at odds with his desire to study for his upcoming OWLS or his notable academic results. She soon realised that he was far more complex than he wanted people to see, and even though his life had been far from easy or loving, he was also empathetic and brave. Those traits should help counter his quick temper, cockiness, and his powerful magical abilities – at least she hoped that would be the case.

Although Dorea regretted how she’d been given a chance to get to know her eldest son, she treasured it. She wished that she and Charlus could have become his guardians but Arcturus was right, it would have raised too many questions. However, Charlus’ cousin and his wife as Sirius’ guardians was an excellent alternative. The two families had already spent a lot of time together before giving Sirius a home, so it wouldn’t raise anyone’s suspicions that she was anything more than his great aunt. Over the summer holidays following James and Sirius sitting their OWLS, the children were often flooing between their home and Potter Manor.

She watched sadly as Sirius (who believed as did most of the Blacks that he’d been disowned) was excluded from many of the family gatherings, although the Prewitt twins, both pairs and Gemini Prewitt continued to visit him at Potter Manor, as did Pandora Abbott, his childhood friend and the three Gryffindors he referred to as the Marauders. Dorea wanted to take him aside and tell him that he wasn’t expelled from the Ancient and Noble House of Black but if Voldemort and his minions believed it to be the case, he would be less of a target.

At least that was their hope and she admitted, if she’d disobeyed Arcturus’ orders and told Sirius it was a ruse, it would, in turn, raise too many questions about the substitution of the fake family tapestry. It would also threaten the vow she had taken when he was born to never speak of who she was to him.

Instead of spending up to half of this summer at the DOM, as was her wont, Dorea found herself spending all of it with her family. She’d been given a unique chance to spent precious time with three of her four children and she wasn’t about to waste it, especially in light of the uncertainty that faced them all with the inevitability of the war approaching. Even Dumbledore, that unquenchable, eternal optimist who believed in giving even the most heinous individuals repeated chances to redeem themselves, had taken the unprecedented action of forming his own army of fighters who he called the Order of the Phoenix.

Mind you, the silly old bugger would only permit his followers to engage Voldemort’s assassins with stunners, which usually resulted in their fellow Death Eaters reviving their colleagues and attacking the Order of the Phoenix fighters even more viciously. It wasn’t uncommon for the Order to incur heavy losses after their skirmishes with the Death Eaters but hey, so long as the so-called Leader of the Light got to offer the assassins the chance of redemption then it was all good. The fact it was an unbelievably stupid way to wage a war and deploy valuable assets clearly didn’t matter to him as much as his precious conscience did. The death of his own was clearly a price he was willing to pay, and his followers lined up like inanimate duelling dummies to fight in his name. Saul Croaker was far from flattering about his tactical abilities.

Aside from the fact that Dorea was still very much a Black in many ways and Albus Dumbledore’s childlike desire to see every situation have a happy ending was anathema to her Slytherin roots, she was also fiercely pragmatic. She recognised that several of her children would end up fighting under the banner of the light, directed under the command of that foolish old buffoon. He was a wizard, supposed to be insanely powerful, who was willing to sacrifice his followers in a futile attempt to offer redemption to evil wizards and witches who would not accept it. He would never protect his own people at all costs.

It was patently clear to the daughter of the Ancient and Noble House of Black that her firstborn son would fight on the side of the Light. He would sacrifice himself to save innocents and it was also blatantly obvious her daughter worshipped her brother even if she didn’t know that they were siblings. Pegasus would follow Sirius unquestionably into battle and if the war continued long enough, she did not doubt that Archer would also join his half-brother in the fray. According to the prophecy on the night he was born, Callisto Abbott had said…

“A wizard of destiny and power; born to challenge an evil most foul, casting its shadow over everything. Flawed by youthful pride, forged by undreamt-of suffering, tempered by fellowship, betrayal, misfortune, and conflict. Born in a time of immense upheaval, possessing equal measures of impulsive courage, loyal defender of equality, keen intellect, and shrewd strategic ability. He must learn to balance these gifts before he can inspire others to journey his path.”

Aside from Pip and Archer being Potters and automatically associated with the Light, even if Sirius weren’t already their “cousin” and a strong influence on them, Dorea could see how easily he could become their role model. He was charismatic and powerful; he was every bit his father’s son, unlike Orion, who lacked intestinal fortitude and would always choose to follow someone stronger. While she believed that Sirius would baulk at following Dumbledore’s lead given his preoccupation with redemption at any cost, if the Headmaster were in charge, her eldest may not have a choice.

She did not want her offspring sacrificed to fulfil some ridiculous fantasy that Albus had of claiming the moral high ground or whatever the hell it was that made him place a higher value on enemies’ souls than on the lives of the people fighting to defeat the Death Eater. As a pragmatist and Unspeakable, Dorea knew that in war, warriors died to gain ground but to sacrifice warriors because you hoped that the enemy might repent was utterly idiotic and a recipe for ignominious defeat.

What made it even worse was the reality of there being a high degree of probability that Sirius would end up fighting against his brother, as could Pip or even her baby, Archer if the war were protracted. Sadly, she didn’t doubt that Regulus would, if presented with the opportunity, kill his siblings without compunction not that he knew that Pip and Archer were his siblings of course, but he would intentionally kill Sirius if given a chance. That scenario played itself over and over in her mind. She knew that Regulus was only fourteen and that despite the environment he’d grown up in, it didn’t automatically guarantee that he’d take the dark mark, as Sirius had demonstrated. But Sirius Orion Black was an outlier.

From what little she’d seen of her second son at rare family gatherings she’d attended, Regulus was a follower, not a leader like Sirius. He had joined in the shunning of Sirius when he’d failed to be sorted into Slytherin, despite the two little boys being devoted to each other, according to Charlus.

Perhaps it had only been Sirius who was the devoted one, since according to what Pip said, Regulus was often in the thick of attacking his brother at school, both verbally and physically, quite literally from the moment he’d stepped off the Hogwarts Express and was sorted into Slytherin.

Learning that Regulus been present during Voldemort’s so-called attempt to recruit Sirius and he’d witnessed the torture his brother endured and was badmouthing him at Hogwarts, calling him a coward and a murderer was heartbreaking. As his mother, she was filled with horror because she just knew that unless someone did something drastic, her second son would take the dark mark and become one of Voldemort’s cold-blooded assassins. There was nothing gallant about the torture and murder of innocent and helpless individuals and such acts must surely be a blight on Regulus’ soul if it occurred.

He needed to be away from Walburga and Orion if he had any hope of saving himself from sacrificing himself for a monster who would destroy him and everyone else who’d had pledged their allegiance. Unfortunately, she knew that it was useless; she and Arcturus had both taken a vow not to reveal who they were to the boys or interfere in Sirius or Regulus’s upbringing.

She had urged Arcturus to act in Regulus’ interests as Lord Black rather than his father, but as he’d pointed out, Regulus was not being physically abused. He loved his parents and that love seemed to be reciprocated. He was their golden child, especially since Arcturus had let it be known that Orion was no longer the heir to the House of Black. Regulus was essentially treated like a prince and Arcturus argued that magic would see any actions that he took to remove Regulus from their care as being unjustified interference and contrary to his vows. He did promise to keep a watch on Regulus and at the first sign of abuse or if they tried to coerce him into taking the dark mark, Lord Black would respond swiftly and ruthlessly.

Dorea stared at her work, which for the past hour she’d been trying unsuccessfully to focus on and tried to take comfort from Arcturus’ pledge. Unhappily, as a world-renowned Potion maker, who possessed a deep vein of logic, she knew that there was every chance that Regulus, would, unlike his rebellious older brother, willingly join the Death Eaters and seal his fate. If so, there was nothing she or anyone could do to save him.

She was slumped over her desk in defeated despair when her boss, Saul Croaker discovered her an hour later after she failed to show up for a staff meeting. Seeing her deep melancholia, Croaker cleared a pile of papers off a chair, relegating them to the floor before he dropped down into the chair and conjured up some morning tea.

“Dorea, are you ill?”

Starting as she realised who was in her office and that he’d arranged for tea and biscuits, she grimaced. “Heartsick, Saul but physically, I’m fine.”

Pouring out the tea, black with a squeeze of fresh lemon, for Dorea he nodded sagely as he pushed the cup toward her. “Ah, I see. Can I be of assistance, my dear?”

Shaking her head, she replied sadly. “I wish. But sadly, there is nothing that anyone can do to help.”

Croaker poured his tea, a dash of milk and two lumps of sugar, stirring it carefully as he said, “That sounds like a remarkably bleak assessment. I have to say that in all my long years of experience that I have never yet encountered a situation that was completely beyond salvation.” He picked up his cup and took a sip.

“I have always found that if you think outside the box, as the muggle-born are fond of telling us, that someone, somewhere will be able to help you. And as a Master of Potions who needs to think beyond known parameters quite frequently, I have every confidence that you will find someone to help. Never forget that you are a Slytherin, Dorea, I’m sure that you’ll think of something – you always do,” he concluded gently.

He then went on to fill her in on what she’d missed at the staff meeting – which amounted to a whole lot of not that much!

Later as she was using the floo in the main atrium of the Ministry to travel home, she thought about what Saul said, about thinking outside the box, and realised that while she and Arcturus couldn’t interfere, that didn’t mean someone else couldn’t act. Arriving home, she went out into her garden to think. A potion maker’s garden was the repository of many rare and unusual medicinal plants and herbs, but it was also a sanctuary where she liked to grow scented plants and flowers to soothe her soul. Of course, sometimes these serendipitously ended up in her potions but even if they had no value in her work, she loved to have them in her garden and she was always on the lookout for new specimens to add to her collection.

Plucking several blooming roses from the bush to place in a vase in her bedroom later she inhaled their exquisite scent as she thought about enlisting someone else to interfere…er intercede in the situation with Regulus. Her immediate thoughts turned to her nephew, Alphard who had taken a keen interest in Sirius and Regulus ever since Arcturus had recalled his son and daughter-in-law back from Bulgaria.

He cared about his nephews, which was obvious, however, she quickly dismissed him as a possible choice. Alphard would probably not be able to get through to Regulus because he would see him as someone who had sided with Sirius. He’d failed to shun him when he returned from Hogwarts as a Gryffindor unlike many of the Blacks had and continued to visit him despite Sirius’ supposed disownment.

Plus, it would be extremely hard to explain to Alphard why she was asking him to do something ostensibly she could do. He might suggest that she talk to Regulus and try to get through to him that Tom Riddle did not believe in pureblood supremacy. Convince him that he was using pureblood wizards and witches to seize power because like so many Dark Lords before him, Tom was a narcissistic monster who only cared about his power and status.

Oh sure, also throw in a healthy serving of vengeance against anyone he perceived to have wronged him, but ultimately, he was only concerned with himself and would sacrifice every last one of his followers so long as he got what he wanted. In some ways, he and Albus Dumbledore weren’t so vastly different from each other despite Albus’ outrageous mantra about whatever he did or thought being for the greater good whenever anyone dared to question his motives.

Not that Regulus would listen to her, even if she could approach him. While she was a daughter of the House of Black, she had married a Potter and Regulus would see her as a blood traitor. Even her children were Gryffindors, so she would have zero credibility with him, should she be able to get access to him, which was highly improbable. Still, even if Alphard was not an option, she knew someone who was. And better yet, this witch already knew who Dorea was to Regulus, but conveniently she hadn’t taken a vow not to interfere. Cassiopeia was a perfect choice.

It seemed like the Head Unspeakable was right. If you think outside the box, someone, somewhere will be able to help you.

~o0o~

Cassiopeia Black was loath to admit it, but it took some time for her to figure out what her younger sister Dorea Potter was up to. She’d invited herself over one day when she knew that Cassie would be home alone, and they’d had lunch together, just like the good old days. They’d talked about a lot of stuff, gossiped about mutual friends, the horse stud, Dory’s latest research trying to figure out how to switch on magic in squibs. As they drunk their way through several bottles of rosehip wine made from the roses from the Black rose farm in Bulgaria and produced especially for the family, they started in on what was going on in the world, which meant Tom Riddle. Both witches shared their disbelief that he had become such a monster and they both agreed that they’d dodge an Unforgivable, rejecting his proposals of marriage when they’d been younger.

That kind of led on to a discussion about his fascination with members of the Black family. Cassie had expressed her surprise that so many of their family, including distant cousins and nieces and nephews, were in such a rush to swear allegiance to him, particularly since he wasn’t even a pureblood. Not that Cassie or her sister could ever be accused of being pureblood supremacists but there were quite a few in the family who were. That was why it was weird that they would choose to bow down and kiss the feet of a wizard who was a half-blood, someone they usually considered to be quite inferior.

Naturally, at that point, the topic turned to Sirius and Regulus, (Dory’s two sons to Arcturus) and Riddemort as Cassie had taken to calling the murderous Dark Lord. He’d tried to recruit Sirius, nearly killing him although thankfully, Sirius had escaped. His defiance had cost him though, Orion and Walburga had disowned him which left Regulus as the last hope to save the family from line extinction. Cassie wasn’t all that sanguine that he would be the saviour of the family, although perhaps he’d be long-lived and pass on that longevity to his offspring.

When Dorea admitted that Arcturus had not disowned Sirius and he was still Lord Black’s heir, Cassie felt relieved. It had always been apparent to her that the family’s best hope of avoiding extinct lay with the powerful young wizard who wasn’t afraid to embrace change. As far as she could see, Regulus would do exactly what his mother and father wanted him to, he was a follower, not a leader.

When her sister told her that the Department of Mysteries had been targeted by terrorists in the last few weeks, she said that the DMLE suspected the Death Eaters were behind it. Her boss Saul Croaker believed that the Unspeakables had been infiltrated, making it a much less safe place than it used to be. Which was when she got around asking for her sister’s help.

“In case something should happen to me, I’d like you to promise to look out for Regulus. You know who he is, and that Arcturus and I can’t interfere or remove him from Orion and Walburga’s custody because of the oath we both took,” she told her sister. “Arcturus had promised that if they physically harm him or attempt to coerce him into taking the dark mark that he can step in as Lord Black, Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Black and not affect our oath but …”

Cassie really didn’t want to think about her sister dying, Dory had two children that needed her, but she remembered how people had been killed before Grindelwald had been captured. Wanting something not to happen didn’t make it so. It was a time of war.

“But what, Dory,” she prompted gently. “What do you want me to do?”

“We both know it will never come to that. Regulus isn’t a rebel; personality-wise, he’s your classic follower. He desperately wants to make his parents happy and if they tell him to take the dark mark he’ll do so willingly. Arcturus will be unable to act, and I don’t want my son to become a murderer because he’s been brainwashed. I don’t want him to fight his siblings when they join the war to defeat Riddle and his bunch of assassins, as I surely know they will.”

Dory had sighed before confiding, “Sirius is already planning on joining some of his friends and distant cousins in the Auror Department when he graduates from Hogwarts. I don’t want him to have to arrest his little brother who he adored, and I don’t want either of my sons to kill each other, either Cass.”

Cassie could understand that, but she wasn’t sure how she could help. “So, what would you have me do?”

“You’re his aunt and a Black. Convince him that Riddle cares naught about the pureblood agenda, he only cares for himself and his power. Convince him not to take the dark mark. I have money that I have set aside for Regulus; I’ll give you the key to his vault. Offer him sanctuary at Blackwood Park so he has protection from the Death Eaters in the family. Whatever it takes!”

Yeah. Right! Should be a piece of cake!

Chapter 37

12th May 1977

After Dorea’s impassioned plea, how could she possibly refuse her sister? Cassie had never had any children of her own, but she was a step mum. One of her former lovers, Melisande McMillian, Melania’s third cousin who’d broken up with Cassie when she’d refused to go on a yearlong working holiday, had suddenly come back into her life again. This time, both witches were older and wiser and they were making it work.

They’d been together for almost three years now and co-parenting Melisande’s eight-year-old daughter, Mariana along with the child’s father, Russell Malkin. At first, she thought that Melisande had been in a relationship with a wizard, but she’d confided that she’d conceived Mariana with sperm donated by her gay friend who wanted to have a child too. It was an unorthodox arrangement, at least in the magical world but it worked for them. Russell lived in a cottage on the farm and was quite hands-on as a father but equally happy to share his daughter with Cassie. Frankly, when she and Mel were together the first time before Sirius was born, Cassie was sure that she never wanted children but somehow, Mariana had melted her heart and now she couldn’t imagine life without her or Melisande or to be honest, Russell in it.

So, when Dorea came to her with her heartfelt request, how could she refuse? It’ was just unfortunate that it took her far too long to realise that her appeal hadn’t been as straight forward as it seemed at the time. Her sister might have married a Potter and had children who grew up to become Gryffindors, but she’d forgotten that Dorea was still very much a daughter of the House of Black. She had never stopped being a Slytherin.

Unfortunately, sometimes there was such a thing as being too Slytherin and obscure. By the time Cassie figure out what her sister had really been asking of her, she feared it might be too late.

~o0o~

Cassie stared at her old friend, Callisto Abbott; she hadn’t seen her for several years, except in passing. She looked almost untouched by time, unlike Cassie who although still beautiful thanks to the Black genes, had aged, in part due to the hours she spent outdoors. It had left her with wrinkles, mostly around her eyes.

As she looked around the delightful orangery where they were taking afternoon tea, she breathed in the scented roses and jasmine, admiring the light and airy environment. “This is very beautiful, Callisto,” she exclaimed appreciatively.

She smiled, “Thank you. Apart from the garden, this is probably my favourite place in the entire house. When I’m home I spend most of my time in here if I’m home alone. Otherwise, I rattle around inside the manor and feel lonely.”

Cassie took one of the dainty petit fours cakes on her plate before selecting a selection of miniature sandwiches while Callisto poured their tea into exquisitely hand-painted floral teacups of fine bone china. It was not only a lovely afternoon tea but also a sensuous feast of the senses but then again, Callisto had always been something of an aesthetic. Cassie remembered how she used to have the most stunning robes, like an abstract watercolour painting, although her choice of robes over the years had become somewhat less flamboyant.

Smiling at her old friend, she asked, “How is Pandora? You’ll be glad to have her home for the summer.”

Callisto nodded. “Yes, the place feels empty when she’s at Hogwarts. I miss her a lot.”

Cassie sighed, knowing that in a few short years, her stepdaughter would be going off to Hogwarts and she would find it difficult to cope. It was a shock to Cassie since she’d never felt maternal, never wanted kids and now, Mariana had turned her into a besotted stepmother. She didn’t see that coming.

Almost as if she had read Cassiopeia’s mind, Callisto gave her a gentle smile. “You are happy, Cassie?” she asked her although it sounded less of a question and more like a statement of fact.

Cassiopeia grinned, playing with an errant curl that had somehow managed to escape her French braid. “Blissfully happy,” she assured Callisto.

“I had a vision a long time again. I saw you, Melisande and Mariana, together and I must admit that when you broke up, I thought that my vision was wrong. Of course, I also saw Rusty Malkin who was a Raven like me. I’ll admit that my vision made me wonder if you’d all end up as a triad, which for the Ancient and Noble House of Black would have been far too scandalous, I fear.”

“For me too, Calli. Just because I’m a lesbian doesn’t mean I’m not a traditional witch in most respects.” She sighed because a lot of people expected her to be a rabid anarchist, but she just wasn’t.

“When Melisande and I parted, I never expected her to find her way back to me. At the time I told myself it wasn’t meant to be, but later I realised she was the love of my life and I regretted letting her go so easily. Now, having her back feels so natural – we’ve both matured a lot and are ready to accommodate each other’s needs.

Callisto smiled placidly. “I’m so happy for you, my friend.”

“At first, I thought that being Mariana’s stepmother would be one of those accommodations, especially with having Russell being so hands-on with his parenting. I never expected to fall in love with a child the way I have. I adore her and rather than being a compromise, she has become a treasured addition to the relationship,” she confessed, wondering how uncharacteristically soppy she sounded with her babbling.

Looking at her friend’s serene smile, she asked, “Is that why you wanted to get together? To tell me about your vision?”

Callisto looked at her candidly. “Perhaps a little but I wanted to talk to you about another vision which I can’t shake. Maybe it would be more accurate to say, several visions, Cassie.”

Cassie decided that didn’t sound good. Had she seen something bad happening to Mel or Mariana? In the worsening political situation, it wasn’t only the muggles who found themselves as targets. Anyone who didn’t join in the Death Eater thuggery to fight for Tom Riddle was fair game, regardless of blood status. Half of her family had sworn their allegiance to him while the rest wouldn’t be caught dead subjugating themselves under the despot’s rule. That did put her and her lover at risk, along with others who she was certain had not been recruited into his ranks of mindless assassins.

Lord Black, his wife, his sister Lycoris and daughter Lucretia had refused Riddle’s recruitment attempts, she was reasonably sure that her brother Pollux and his wife Irma had as well. His daughter Walburga and her husband Orion, and her brother’s son, Cygnus, his wife and their two daughters Bellatrix and Narcissa had been recruited. Other Blacks who had more distant ties to the family were evenly divided too. Some had joined that lunatic who was now insisting that no one was permitted to say his name – he must be referred to as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Cassie thought that was pretty fucking rich since his stupid Lord Voldemort moniker was a made-up name by a foolish vain wizard while he was a schoolboy.

Steeling herself to hear something terrible to do with her girls, she said grimly, “Okay, tell me, Calli.”

Callisto nodded. “I had a vision that Regulus will soon swear allegiance to the Dark Lord. He will torture and kill a muggle boy, slightly younger than himself.”

Oh, Merlin’s great aunt! Intellectually she had told herself that was a likely outcome. His parents were rabid supporters of Riddle! Just as Dorea had predicted last year when she’d asked Cassie to try to persuade him if anything ever happened to her, he was a follower and would obey his mother and father. But hearing that he would choose to torture and murder a young boy to take the dark mark was nothing short of horrific. No wonder her sister always looked so ill all the time and Arcturus was so grim. He’d always carried his age remarkably well but lately, he looked old and sick.

Looking at the seer, she asked. “Do Dory and Arcturus know?”

Callisto grimaced, “They do.”

Cassie realised that it was a dumb question. The children were all friends and kept each other abreast of what was going on.

“You said you had other visions?”

Callisto nodded affirmatively. “Yes, I did. They were contradictory – I’m not sure what that means exactly. In the first one, Dorea breaks her magical oath and reveals to Regulus that he is not the biological child of Walburga or Orion, that she and Arcturus are his parents.”

The seer sighed. “It does not end well. Regulus doesn’t believe her; he probably thinks that she is making it up to convince him not to take the dark mark. Either that or if he does believe her, he is too hurt and decides to hurt Dorea as well, taking the dark mark to spite her and Arcturus.”

Cassie nodded, mentally describing it as a typical teenager’s well fuck you act. “And so, Dory loses her magic for nothing?”

Looking sorrowful, Callisto bowed her head. “I’m sorry Cassie, but she didn’t just lose her magic, her health due to her research methods had weakened her. The shock of losing her magic was too much for her body to withstand. In my vision, Dorea died.”

Cassie wanted to know what Dory had been doing to make her so vulnerable, but she doubted that Callisto would tell her. The thought of her losing her sister was unbearable but she knew that there was still more. She said there were two contradictory visions.

Gulping down her anguish, she said as collectedly as she could, “And the second vision?”

“I see you talking to him, Cassie. Spending time with him and listening to him. Something you do or say changes the outcome of the war. I cannot tell you what it is…I do not know that, but I can tell you that when Sirius was born, I had a vision that he could defeat Riddle. But only if Regulus could be persuaded to put his trust in him, as he’d done when they were young, before Walburga corrupted his relationship with his brother. That woman was always insanely jealous of how much Sirius loved his little brother.”

Cassie felt like she’d been hit by the Hogwarts Express. That the potential to end Tom Riddle and save countless innocent lives could potentially be down to something she did or said. Good Merlin’s ghost, what could she possibly do?

“Can I ask you something about this vision, Calli?”

The seer nodded enigmatically. “You may. I may or may not be able to answer though,” she said regretfully.

“In this second vision, is my sister alive or is she dead?”

Callisto was silent for several minutes, her brow furrowed. Finally, she looked into Cassie’s eyes and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know the answer to that question.”

Cassie shrugged. “Okay, let’s try this then; did Regulus already know who his real parents were when I went to talk to him?”

The seer shut her eyes as she tried to remember. “I don’t think he did, but I can’t be positive, Cassie. I’m sorry.”

Cassie frowned. “How am I supposed to convince Regulus not to take the dark mark? I’m guessing based upon your first vision that if Dorea telling him who his real parents were didn’t stop him then I wouldn’t be any more successful either.”

“I agree with you that in theory that it probably wouldn’t help but please understand that I am not speaking based upon my visions. I truly don’t know exactly what it is that makes the difference, only that you have the power to effect change.”

“What power? I’m no mind healer, which is what that boy needs.”

“No, my friend but you are a Black. You are his family. And you care about your nephew.” Seeing that hadn’t exactly inspired Cassie she continued.

“Plus, YOU ARE Slytherin from your core. I’m not referring to the silly schoolyard rivalry of generations of Hogwarts alumni, nor the ugly and ludicrous pureblood supremacy propaganda that has seen blood wars flourish time and again. I mean true Slytherin traits: supreme confidence and ambition in the face of impossible odds, true cunning and stealth to be able to bend or break rules when it is absolutely necessary and the strength to make impossible decisions when needed and not look to do what is easiest.”

Cassie stared at her in disbelief. “How can you possibly believe that I possess all that, Calli?”

“You do it every day running your horse stud, Cassiopeia Leah Black and because you are stepmother extraordinaire to Marianna McMillan-Malkin-Black.”

~o0o~

After her visit to Callisto Abbott’s, Cassie had finally figured out that she’d been incredibly obtuse when it came to Dorea and her request about saving Regulus. The whole ‘if I should die’ conversation had been nothing more than a huge subterfuge. It was meant to protect Dory, in case her asking Cassie to help save Regulus from committing the biggest mistake of his short life would have been viewed by Magic as a betrayal of Dorea Potter’s oath.

She might have married a Potter, but Cassie should never have forgotten how Slytherin her baby sister could be. She’d been hoping that her big sister would understand how desperate she was and had tried to circumvent her oath to enlist her help without breaking it.

Of course, the fact that Cassie hadn’t been Slytherin enough to figure out that she hadn’t really wanted her to intercede on in the event of her death was hugely embarrassing for her older sister. Dory must be despairing that she would act – it would explain why in Callisto’s vision she would decide that losing her magic was worth it to try and save him. Not just him, she reminded herself – she’d also talked a lot about Sirius who she’d had time to get acquainted with. Dorea was concerned, and probably rightly too, that if Regulus joined the Death Eaters, that they could end up facing off against each other because Sirius was bound and determined to join the Aurors the moment he left Hogwarts.

Now the first thing on the agenda was to subtly let Dorea know Cassie was on the case now, so the idiot didn’t go off and do something stupid like sacrificing her life needlessly. The second thing she needed to do was figure out exactly how she was going to approach Regulus without setting him off. She figured that as he’d responded badly in Callisto’s vision to learning Dory was his mother, that it was probably not the way to try to stop him from making a huge mistake.

Realising that the summer holidays were almost upon them, she decided to ask Regulus and Phineas to help her exercise the horses, taking them down to the coast to let them swim in the sea. He’d stopped coming to the horse-riding parties with all the cousins years ago. By offering Phineas and Regulus a way to earn some spending galleons over the holidays, it might help her to establish some rapport with Regulus. If she offered him a job on his own, then he would be suspicious but hiring the two Slytherin cousins to work together would be more credible.

It also gave her two months to work on him over the holidays. Regulus was still only fifteen, which should give her an 8-month window in which to convince him not to swear allegiance to Riddemort since Sirius had been sixteen when they’d attempted to recruit him.

Hopefully, should Phineas had any ideas of joining up, she could persuade him that it was a bad move too. Sort of kill two birds with the one stone as it were. Although the Greengrass House, like the House of Black, were traditionally overly cautious about openly supporting others, so hopefully he wouldn’t do anything foolish. And yet, she would never have predicted that members of the House of Blacks would be so stupid, but they had. Talking to Phineas wouldn’t hurt and would make Regulus feel less like she was singling him out.

When school finished up for the year, she approached Phineas first, hoping if she could get him on board, he would help her to persuade Regulus. That and the lure of earning some substantial galleons over the holidays. Luckily, her Slytherin manoeuvrings seemed to have paid off; both wizards accepted her offer of a job three mornings a week.

They would help her ride the Abraxans, Aethonan and Granians down to the coast. Once they’d flown them down there, they would let the horses roam free to play in the sea; all the horses Cassie had bred had a strong affinity to water and loved to swim. As they sat there, letting the winged equines frolic, and watching them galloping over the sand, they would talk.

Cassie encouraged the boys to tell her about their school exploits, and in return, she told them stories about her own time, occasionally she told them stories about Dory or Pollux, although (since Pollux had gotten a witch pregnant in his second year) she tended to avoid speaking about him as much as possible. She talked about dating and crushes, encouraging them to share their own crushes and exploits, joking about who they took into broom cupboards.

It became obvious to Cassie that Regulus was possibly gay or bi, as he mentioned a couple of girls, but she detected a definite attraction to Rabastan Lestrange. Of course, she saw that as a problem, because the Lestranges were strong supporters of the Dark Lord. Moreover, Rabastan and his brother Rodolphus Jr blamed Sirius for the death of their father.

It mattered not that they would have attempted to escape if they’d been captured by the light and Dumbledore had tried to redeem their souls. It didn’t seem to bother the Lestrange family that Voldemort, not Sirius killed their father. Unfortunately, Rabastan and his brother were so invested in the Riddemort hype that they couldn’t blame Voldemort; to do so, would endanger them if they admitted he murdered Rodolphus Sr. in cold blood. More importantly, it would also require that they admit they’d been wrong to swear allegiance to him; it was far easier to continue to worship him and to blame Sirius, who’d only been trying to survive.

Still, Cassie rationalised that as much of an obstacle as Regulus’ infatuation with Rabastan was, it was always better to know exactly what you were up against. Like Arcturus would no doubt say, know thine enemies and the Lestrange brothers were most definitely her foes. Knowing she was facing a huge uphill battle; she used her advantage as any smart Slytherin would.

Being a Lesbian witch, Regulus had begun coming to her in private, to talk about his sexuality and his fears that he wouldn’t be accepted by his parents, that they might disown him. Cassie talked about her own experiences and she gathered that Rabastan was probably gay too. It appeared that Regulus had limited sexual experience with either sex and was thirsty for support and advice which she was happy to provide to him.

She also sprinkled into her stories how her father and his brother, the then Lord Black (Sirius II) had attempted to marry her off to some influential wizards. She also told him about how an orphan in Slytherin called Tom Riddle wanted to marry her, even though she was at least ten years older than her. She’d refused him, threatening to geld him if he tried anything with her.

She looked at her nephew and said, “Of course in his last few years at school, he started calling himself Lord Voldemort, but that was just a made-up name.  You probably already know that Walburga and my sister Dorea went to school with him. Dory was a 6th-year prefect in Slytherin, and your mother was a year ahead of Tom.”

He looked like he wasn’t listening to her – like he’d tuned her out, but she kept on going regardless. She knew it was now or never – if he didn’t listen, maybe he would think about what she said later.

“When I turned him down and told him I was a lesbian, he called me some vile homophobic names. Then he told me I was a diseased bitch, and I should be put down like a rabid wolf. I told him to go fuck himself. Later that year he asked Lord Black to marry Dorea and Tom was not pleased when she turned him down too.

“I’m not sure why but he seems obsessed with the Ancient and Noble House of Black, perhaps because we are a repository for much of the recorded history of Dark Magic or because of the power and influence we wield.”

Cassie was surprised when Regulus asked a question, “Did he ever ask my mother to marry him?”

“Not to my knowledge, Reg but it is possible.”

She didn’t tell him that although possible it was highly likely, as wizards ran a mile from Walburga, even at school. She was quite crazy and had also favoured the Crabbe side of the family as far as looks were concerned. Cassie was fairly sure that Riddemort wanted herself and Dory, in part because of their looks which came from the Black line.

“Lord Voldemort seems to be smitten by Cousin Bellatrix,” he told her.

“But she’s married to Rodolphus Lestrange,” Cassie observed.

Voldemort says that it is an honour for him to share his wife with the Dark Lord,” Regulus said innocently.

Cassie wasn’t a prude, but the thought of Bella lying with Tom Riddle, even ignoring the rather large age gap was frankly appalling to her. Bella was even more rabid than Walburga and that was a feat in itself. The possibility that she might conceive a child with that lunatic was simply terrifying to her. And that fucking monster had the gall to call her a diseased animal who should be exterminated.

As the end of the summer holidays approached, Cassie felt as if she was making good progress with Regulus, so she was shocked when he confided in her that he and Rabastan had decided to take the dark mark before they went back to school. She tried to talk him out of it – arguing that he was not even sixteen, but he told her that his parents had given him their blessing. She pleaded with him to wait, to talk to Sirius before he did something that he would regret. Cassie told him that there was a trust fund that had been set up for him so that he could leave home and that he could always come and live with her.

Despite her pleading, he said that he was in love with Rabastan, and they wanted to be together. Rabastan was going to take the dark mark and he wanted to support him. She reminded him of Voldemort’s homophobia, and he’d shrugged, saying that she must have misunderstood him, he was fine about them being together. She disputed that and he shook his head and said that it had happened a long time ago and the Dark Lord had changed his attitude.

It seemed that no matter what she said, she was unable to talk, him around. Panicked she’d gone to talk to Callisto who told her that her vision didn’t explicitly reveal if she’d been able to persuade him not to join the Death Eaters, just that something she’d done or said had affected his actions and was ultimately responsible for the defeat of Lord Voldemort.

“Are you saying that I should just let my sister’s son sacrifice his life and take the dark mark, Callisto? We both know what that means.”

“Yes, I am aware that he would take the life of an innocent muggle, possibly torture him too. Remember that I saw it happen in my vision. And I am not saying you should let him – I’m saying that you may not be able to stop him, Cass. He is a follower as you already know. If as you say he is madly in love with Lestrange or believes he is, since what does any 15-year-old know of being in love, then your ability to persuade him is tenuous at best.”

“But your vision?”

“Yes, I saw him choose to make a stand against Voldemort, but I did not see when it took place. Sadly, perhaps he must see what is real through his own eyes before he will believe what you and Sirius have said about Voldemort is the truth. Even if he does take the dark mark, which unhappily seems most likely at this stage, keep the channels of communication open between you so if he realises that he was wrong, he can come to you.”

Cassie just gave her a look that said, you can’t be serious.

Callisto smiled apologetically. “Remember Cassie, something you did or said or are yet to do or say will be crucial in turning the tide. Do not give up on him, even if everything seems hopeless. Your love and friendship plus the devoted love that Sirius gave him until he left for Hogwarts have to count for something.”

Cassie prayed she was right!

Chapter 38

24th August 1977

Arcturus looked at his cousin sadly. “I am disturbed by your news, Cassiopeia. When I heard that you were mentoring him, I had high hopes that you could persuade him not to join that army of assassins.”

Cassie bowed her head despairingly. “Me too.”

He looked completely shattered as he continued. “Unfortunately, as you are already aware, due to the magical vows that Dorea and I took after his birth, I cannot interfere if he is choosing to take the dark mark of his own free will. If I believed it would make a difference, I would choose to break my oath, but I fear that all that would happen is that it would merely place our family and the wizarding world in more peril than it is already.

“Tom Riddle has an agenda – he wants the knowledge of the Dark Arts that reside in the Black family’s private library. If he were to get hold of them if I’m not there to stop it, I fear that he may be able to enslave not just the wizarding world but the muggle one too.”

Cassie nodded grimly, “I do understand that Arcturus. But please understand that I need to do something. Callisto had a vision and she told me that in it, something I did or that I said made a difference, even if it didn’t stop him from following Rabastan and joining the Death Eaters.

The expression of distaste on his face at the mention of Lestrange gave Cassie pause to wonder if it was Rabastan he objected to or the notion Regulus was attracted to wizards instead of witches. Arcturus was a traditionist, but he had mellowed quite a bit over the years. Regardless, this wasn’t the time to be debating about Regulus’ sexual preferences or Lord Black’s prejudices either.

Her cousin looked at her speculatively, “What are you planning to do?”

“Every damned thing I can think of,” Cassie told him vehemently, “But so far I’ve only had one idea and I need your assistance. Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to break your vow,” she told him reassuringly.

Lord Black looked at his cousin and said, “If it is in my power to assist you, I will.”

Cassie smiled in relief. Something told her this was the right thing to do. “Tell me this Cousin, who is the one individual in Regulus’ life who is devoted to him and whose devotion is reciprocated by Reg?” she asked, wanting to avoid his refusal when she got around to making her request.

“That bitch Walburga,” he growled furiously. “I should have had her confined to St Mungo’s ward for the criminally insane many years ago,” he said, the recrimination he felt for failing to do so was crystal clear.

“Aside from Walburga. There is another one who you banished,” Cassie said mildly.

“Not that sick, twisted house-elf of Walburga’s? You do know that he admitted under my questioning that he aided and abetted her in torturing Sirius right up until he escaped from Grimmauld Place?” he roared at her.

Staying calm, she nodded. “Yes, Kreacher. Look I am as offended by the disgusting little fuckhead as you are, Lord Black,” Cassie admitted, her potty mouth revealing that she wasn’t anywhere near as calm as she pretended. “But Arcturus, for all his depravity he is faithful to Regulus.”

Arcturus rubbed his manicured hand over his face. “So, what is it you’re suggesting…um requesting?”

“That you give him the task of watching over Regulus. Callisto is adamant that Regulus must not die, that he has or one day will possess the key to defeating Tom Riddle,” she said.

“I will forbid him from obeying any of that bitch’s orders,” he told her bluntly. “That is not open for negotiation.”

“Good.”

He looked at her searchingly. Even in her early sixties, Cassiopeia was still quite beautiful. He hoped she knew what she was doing and then he remembered – she was a daughter of the House of Black and Slytherin to her core. He would trust her, would trust Callisto Abbott too even if he had little faith in prophecies and vision. Granting her request would not interfere fundamentally with his plans to hinder Riddle and maybe she and Callisto were right.

He summoned the elf, calling him in his Lord Black voice and there was an immediate pop as the wizen old house-elf appeared instantly in Arcturus’ private study. “What can Kreacher get for Lord Black?’ he asked politely although his expression betrayed his dislike and disgust.”

Looking at Cassie, she inferred that he was letting her take the lead. “Lord Black has a very special job that he wants you to carry out in his name, Kreacher,” she told him kindly.

He had been ignoring her but now he addressed her unpleasantly. “The Lezzy horse-fucking witch dares to speak to poor Kreacher. His dearest Mistress Wallsy would be sickened by her stench.”

Arcturus swore under his breath. “I forbid you from ever repeating such vile language about Cassiopeia or anyone else for that matter,” he ordered the elf fiercely.

“Your FORMER mistress Walburga is an insane bint; therefore, I do not give a hippogriff’s shit what she thinks or says. Do not mention her again in my presence.”

Cassie had instantly recognised that the sentiment expressed by the old elf had come from her insane niece Walburga, but it was still hurtful. She flashed her older cousin a grateful look as she continued. “As I was saying, Lord Black wishes for you to serve him by protecting his grandson, Regulus Black, Kreacher. We both know how much you love him.”

“Regulus a good young wizard, not like that other pile of piss. One day Regulus will be Lord Black and Kreacher will be happy,” he predicted triumphantly before deciding not to say anymore.”

“Good, well we fear that someone may try to kill Regulus. We want you to protect him.”

“Kreacher would give his life for the young master.”

Arcturus nodded. “Good. So go to him and serve him. Only him, Kreacher. I forbid you to serve your former Mistress, Walburga Hesper Black. You are not to speak with her, not to communicate in any way or obey any order she may have given you, is that clear?”

Kreacher nodded his bald oversized head, patently enraged. “It is clear, Lord Black. I serve and obey Master Regulus only and protect him with my life.”

Cassie considered what Kreacher had promised and realised they’d forgotten something critical. “If Regulus gives you an order that endangers his life in any way, Lord Black orders you to disobey Master Black. You will not be punished.”

Kreacher looked at Arcturus, his anger was much less palpable. “Does this daughter of The Ancient and Noble House of Black speak true?”

Arcturus looked at his cousin and raised one eyebrow, asking why she had given that order to the house-elf. “Kreacher would give his life for Regulus but I have little doubt that Regulus would do the same for someone he was devoted to,” she told him, meaning Kreacher.

“True,” he conceded. “Yes, Lord Black is ordering you to disobey him if he gives you an order not to save his life, Kreacher. You will not be punished because as Lord Black, Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Black, my orders to protect him supersedes any that he may issue. Do you understand?”

Kreacher looked happy. “I understand. I will protect Regulus Black.”

Arcturus told him he was free to leave and to arrange to return to Regulus as the old elf beamed at them before popping out of the room.

Cassie felt as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. “Thank you, Cousin,” She said formally, before grimacing. “As repugnant as Kreacher is with his bigoted views, I never want to witness him smiling ever again. It was most disturbing.”

“You do know that he never acquired that vile description while he’s been in my service, I hope?”

Cassie shook her head, “Oh I know that he picked it up from Walburga. It is one of several charming insults she’s addressed me with over the years. I have a few of my own that I use for her,” she admitted honestly.

“Fair enough,” he told her. “I’m also guilty of a few myself. I’m not sure if it will help, but at least I have done something to protect my son, even if it isn’t enough.

~o0o~

After she’d gone, he wondered if he should have confided in her. It would be a relief to have someone he could talk to, especially since she knew so much about Sirius and Regulus already. But in the end, he’d decided that a secret was safest if you didn’t confide in others. Of course, he knew she’d noticed that he’d changed the orders she’d issued to Kreacher.

She told him, “If Regulus gives you an order that endangers him in any way, Lord Black orders you to disobey him. You will not be punished.”

When Kreacher had looked to him to confirm those orders, he’d subtly changed them to, “Yes, Lord Black is ordering you to disobey him if he gives you an order not to save his life, Kreacher. You will not be punished because as Lord Black, Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Black, my orders to protect him supersedes any that he may issue. Do you understand?”

Cassiopeia’s order had been too broad. His slightly different wording restricted it to ‘an order not to save his life,’ because since he’d informed Saul Croaker that Unspeakable Augustus Rookwood was one of Voldemort’s Death Eaters. Croaker had since recruited him as a spy and that fact alone potentially endangered everyone in the family who were Death Eaters in danger should he be discovered. Yet he had little choice, it had been his financial support in the early days when he was far more, which had helped Tom Riddle gain a foothold in the wizarding world.

Now, much older, and wiser, despite being a pureblood, he could see quite plainly that Riddle would end up wiping out many pureblood families already teetering on the brink of line extinction, as was the House of Black. Plus, exposure to Charlus Potter and his muggle loving views and his valuable access to muggle medicine had softened Arcturus pureblood views fairly dramatically in two decades. His daughter lived with a so-called blood traitor and they were all in jeopardy.

Which was why he agreed to help when Saul made his case, although it wasn’t why he’d informed on Rookwood in the first place. It had been purely personal, Rookwood’s office in the Department of Mysteries was right next door to his cousin Dorea Potter. He was concerned that as many viewed her as a blood traitor for marrying a Potter, she would pose a soft target. Saul had Rookwood disappeared, fabricating an explosion. Releasing details that an Unspeakable had been killed in a work-related accident was smart. The Death Eaters would probably assume that he was killed in a failed bid to take out Dorea.

Sneaky of Saul. He was a much more suitable adversary to take on and conquer Tom Riddle than Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. If anyone required any proof of that, it was that Croaker immediately saw the enormous benefits of having Arcturus Black as a spy and set about conscripting him. Dumbledore would never have considered recruiting him because he was far too suspicious of the House of Black’s access to material documenting the dark arts. It was said that it was one of the most extensive in the wizarding world and as Arcturus knew, that statement was not hyperbole.

Albus had made it clear on numerous occasions that he thought that he should be the guardian of the repository of the greatest collection of recorded information about the dark arts, not the House of Black. Arcturus told him he was barking mad if he thought that the House of Black would surrender their repository to the likes of the Chief Warlock.

Arcturus found it highly irritating that the Headmaster of Hogwarts fell over himself offering some of the vilest of wizards a second, third or even a fourth chance, even when they or their parents were known followers of Voldemort or members of his Death Eater army. Yet Sirius had treated with constant suspicion for the entire seven years he’d been at Hogwarts as if he was far more dangerous than the Slytherins who constantly attacked him physically or verbally. He and Charlus had discussed it at some length.

They figured if Sirius had sorted into Slytherin, Dumbledore undoubtedly would have bent over backwards trying to be the one to ‘redeem’ him, yet because he’d already had rejected his ancestry of pure blood bigotry, he was not to be trusted.

Charlus said, “Perhaps he was seen as a spy.” Which was freaking crazy.

Dorea’s husband had been incensed when Dumbledore had punished Sirius in his 6th year when a fellow student (a Slytherin named Severus Snape) had ended up almost being attacked by Sirius and James’ friend, Remus Lupin. Lupin had the misfortune of developing Lycanthropy after being attacked by the notorious Fenrir Greyback before his fifth birthday. Back in 1965, the Daily Prophet had been full of sensational headlines about a wizard (Lupine’s father) who’d angered Greyback, an evil SOB, had bitten his little boy to teach his father and those who might be tempted to emulate him not to piss him off.

The magical world was a relatively small one and some people knew it was Lyall and Hope Lupine’s son who was bitten. If they didn’t know for certain, the family dropping out of sight and moving somewhere isolated had fuelled suspicions. Still, over time, new atrocities or tragedies occurred and peoples’ memories dimmed. By the time he was old enough to attend Hogwarts, Dumbledore had invited the lad to enrol, steamrollering his parents who were nervous about him attacking anyone. It was why they had isolated themselves in the six years since the attack.

Dumbledore had overruled their fears. As the head of the Wizengamot and Headmaster of Hogwarts, he was very convincing, plus Remus was an intelligent boy who longed to go to school. Albus made plans for him to be segregated away from his fellow students and staff at the full moon and instructed him never to mention his affliction to his school mates. Arcturus recalled how Charlus had ranted and raved for hours, disparaging anyone foolish enough to call themselves an educator could just assume that ordering an eleven-year-old wizard not to tell anyone he was a werewolf. How he could possibly think that would be sufficient to keep it secret when there was a school full of inquisitive witches and wizards.

Arcturus agreed that it seemed quite irresponsible, particularly since according to Fleamont Potter, James, Sirius, and their other Gryffindor friend Peter had guessed Remus was a werewolf in their first year at Hogwarts.

It also explained their desire to open a phenomenally successful business selling Honeydukes chocolate to the rest of the Hogwarts students. It enabled them to provide chocolate for Remus every month, without drawing unnecessary attention to him. James had confessed to his father since graduation that in addition to their chocolate enterprise, they’d began playing a series of pranks on the students and staff every month, along with faking a bunch of minor injuries and illness. Their intent had been to distract the other students so they wouldn’t notice the pattern of full moon disappearances by their friend.

Arcturus couldn’t help but be impressed, it showed that the boys were a whole lot smarter than their headmaster who never thought any further than his hooked nose. But still, with roughly ten full moons per year, it was a huge ask to try to keep anyone from figuring out about Remus’ Lycanthropy. It was almost inevitable that someone, in this case, one of their year mates managed to figure out Remus’ secret. The wizard was in Slytherin and was also very bright, particularly good in Potions and DADA.

There was a long history of bad blood between the Slytherin student, Severus Snape and the Gryffindors. Charlus blamed it on several factors: mutual harassment, the inter-house rivalry between Slytherins and Gryffindor and one of the oldest excuses there was – competing for the affections of a witch who James and Snape both desired, plus Severus’ jealousy over her friendship with Remus. A combination of factors that turned into a conflagration of resentment, anger, and retribution.

Once Snape figured out Remus was a werewolf, he set out to have him put down, knowing that should Remus’ wolf attacked him, he’d be executed by the Ministry of Magic. The only flaw with his plan was that the conceited Slytherin grossly overestimated his ability to take on a werewolf. Snape began goading Sirius about being a coward and blaming him for the death of Rodolphus Lestrange Sr before informing him that he knew about Remus’ secret and he was going there to prove it and get him expelled. Sirius had foolishly taken the bait, lashing out at Snape in anger daring him to face Remus and unthinkingly revealing where he was.

Arcturus expressed his disbelief, “Why would Sirius have fallen into Snape’s trap, Potter? He’d been the one to manipulate Riddle.”

Charlus nodded and said that he believed he had an explanation. “James confessed to his dad that the boys had bullied Severus over the years, but Snape had constantly taunted Sirius, calling him a blood traitor, and he buddied up to Regulus, despite being three years older than him. James believed he’d done it solely to get under Sirius skin.”

Arcturus poured a shot of whisky for himself and Charlus and slammed it down, scowling as Charlus. “If he’s so damned smart, why would he be stupid enough to confront a werewolf? That’s incredibly stupid.”

“Yeah, good question. Fleamont and I speculated about that. It turns out that Snape arrived at Hogwarts on his first day knowing more curses than students who were many years his senior. Fleamont theorised that he may have thought he could execute Remus Lupin and claim self-defence.”

As Arcturus pointed out, if that was his intention and it was suitably Slytherin enough for Lord Black to suspect it was, it had been stymied when James turned up in the nick of time and saved his life. At which point the Headmaster finally found out what had been going on, right under his long, crooked nose. Typical of the headmaster’s concern for saving Slytherin’s souls, Dumbledore had let Severus Snape off with a stern talking to about the dangers of facing off against werewolves and he made Snape swear an oath that he wouldn’t reveal Lupine’s lycanthropy.

Sirius’s transgression in revealing the Shrieking Shack had been viewed by Dumbledore (and his mates) as being incredibly reckless with Lupin’s life and punished severely. Until Charlus as his healer and Fleamont as his guardian had gone storming in Hogwarts to defend him, Dumbledore had been seriously considering expelling him.

The two Potter wizards argued that his recent difficulties regulating his emotions, for example his mood swings, anger outbursts, and his poor impulse control (which Severus had manipulated to gain access to Remus’ whereabouts during full moon) were due to his rampant Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The attack on him when Voldemort tried to make him take the dark mark was more than sufficient trauma to cause PTSD. But that wasn’t the only trauma he’d been exposed to.

There were the continual attacks on him at Hogwarts (physical, verbal and psychological) that more than accounted for his lack of control when Snape goaded him into revealing that the Shrieking Shack was where Remus was. As Charlus pointed out, given the lengths that the boys had gone to setting up their chocolate business and their strategic pranking to safeguarding Lupin’s secret, even a foolish old wizard like Dumbledore should have seen the complete inconsistency of a single impulsive act weighed, against all of their protection.

Unfortunately, Dumbledore, unlike his well-known penchant for showing mercy to his enemies, showed no desire to offer Sirius a shot at redemption. Unlike Snape, who in Arcturus’ opinion had brought the whole thing on himself by thinking he could confront a werewolf.  If Fleamont’s theory was correct, and it had some sound logic behind it, then he’d intended to murder Remus because Lily Evan was his friend and Snape was pathologically jealous. A perfect candidate to give a second chance too, NOT.

Charlus was scathing. He believed that Dumbledore should have insisted that Sirius attend mind healing sessions for the trauma he’d undergone, but instead he was given detentions for the rest of the year. At best, there should have been equal punishment for Snape, he was far from blameless. Later that year he went on to take the dark mark and had been rapidly moving up the ranks of the Death Eaters, so Dumbledore’s mercy had obviously been highly effective in creating another assassin.

Arcturus agreed that Dumbledore’s handling of the situation was hardly even-handed, but he really wouldn’t have expected anything less of Dumbledore who saw the world through his own rose -coloured glasses. He played favourites and Sirius getting sorted into Gryffindor disrupted his narrow view of the world.

As far as Black was concerned, Dumbledore Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore was a bigoted old fool and he, Lord Black would not work with him on organising a children’s birthday party, let alone a class war that was about to morph into an international war. But Saul Croaker…now he was another matter entirely. He wondered about how Croaker would feel about naming their collaboration The Mysterious Fellowship of the Augurey.

 

Notes:

  1. While the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn’t formally classified as an anxiety disorder until 1980 in the Third Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM- III) it has been observed since ancient times where Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey mentions soldiers traumatised by war, the syndrome has been known by a bucket load of names including Railroad Spinal Syndrome, Da Costa syndrome, Soldier’s Heart, and Railway Shaking. Other disparaging terms at various times found popularity such as Compensation Neurosis and Névrose Traumatique (Traumatic Neurosis) and Hystérie Traumatique (Traumatic Hysteria). This chapter and the incident with Severus, Sirius, James, and Remus takes place in the late 1970s but even though PTSD was still officially classified as an adjustment disorder, it would be logical to assume that for the change in classification to have occurred, mental health professionals would have already been viewing PTSD as an anxiety-based condition.
  2. According to the Harry Potter Lexicon, the greenish black Augurey is a thin and doleful-looking bird whose feathers repel ink, and it resembles a vulture in appearance. The Augurey is a native of Britain and Ireland who customarily will stay hidden in its nest in brambles and thorns. It flies only in heavy rain and its diet consists of insects and fairies. Its mournful cry was traditionally believed to herald death however recently it has been discovered that Augurey’s cry presages rain.

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SASundance

Writer and reader from down under, obsessive filler of pot-holes um plot holes. You can find me at A03 and fanfic.net under my pen name SASundance

One Comment:

  1. I felt a lot of rage at various people while reading this part. I think Cassie was the only adult I didn’t feel that towards. I’ll be frank, I’m finding it hard to sympathize with Regulus or even root for him. I don’t know that I would care if he died like he did in canon and I certainly don’t want Sirius to give him another chance to betray him.

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