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His Own True Heir by Scaranda [Reviews - 2]

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Regrets and Recollections

Snape had gone upstairs to read. He’d told them what he thought about Rowena Ravenclaw's brooch in her poem, but they were all of the same opinion: it was too easy; if it had been that simple, Dumbledore would certainly have spotted it.

Lucius, Draco and Lupin were playing cards, and Harry found himself alone with his godfather. Sirius had changed form, and they went outside for a walk on the moonlit beach; just a boy and a black dog, it should be safe enough if they stayed near the lights of the cottage. Harry looked back as Sirius changed form again, and they sat with their heavy cloaks pulled tight, on a bench below a tree which grew incongruously where the sandy shingle met the rough grassland. Although Harry didn’t know it, Dumbledore and Snape had grown the tree only a few months back as the Apparition point for the safe house, so that if the co-ordinates ever fell into the wrong hands all that would be found were a tree and a bench, where the beach met the windswept heath, somewhere on the northwest coast. Snape had only reluctantly agreed to be the Secret Keeper, as though if he refused, Dumbledore would have to stay alive to fulfil the obligation.

Harry sensed someone watching from a dark upstairs window to where their silhouettes were thrown into relief by the candlelight from the cottage windows and the lantern he had lit as they sat. He knew it was Snape; he felt oddly comforted by that, as if he were watching out for him, as though nothing would harm him while he watched.

‘Tell me all about it, Sirius,’ Harry asked, breaking the companionable silence.

‘What?’ Sirius gave him a sidelong look, as though he’d wondered how long it would take Harry to ask.

‘You know,’ Harry said with a smile, sure now that he was being teased. He hadn’t wanted to ask in front of the others; he hadn’t wanted them to see how hurt he’d been that he hadn’t known. ‘How you got out from behind the Veil. Dumbledore told me there was no spell that could bring you back.’

‘I’m sorry about that, Harry. There was nothing I could do about it. Things were moving fast, and the Prophesy was only one part of it. Voldemort knew we were on to the Horcruxes; too much was at stake, and Dumbledore knew he didn’t have long,’ Sirius said. ‘When I went through the Veil … it wasn’t all of me. I left a part behind, a living part, and I was able to reunite with it.’

Harry watched him; he knew Sirius was thinking and trying to put it all into words. ‘A Horcrux?’ he asked, aghast at the thought.

‘No, no.’ Sirius shook his head in denial. ‘When I was young I took a blood oath with some other people, and when that oath matured it meant that my actual blood lives in their veins, as theirs does in mine. With the right incantations, and the permission of the people who hold my blood, I could rejoin the rest of me.’

‘Does this go way back to the start of the Order of the Phoenix?’ Harry frowned. ‘You were all members, weren’t you, even Malfoy?’

‘Oh no, Lucius was never a member of the Order of the Phoenix, Harry.’ Sirius shook his head again. ‘We were members of a very different secret society. Some of us were members of the Order, but we had a different society and a different agenda. There were six of us,’ he said with a little laugh, half sad, half reminiscing. ‘We thought we were invincible, like the bloody Knights of the Round Table.’

‘Who were the six?’ Harry whispered; he hoped James was one of them.

Sirius seemed to go off in a tangent. ‘We thought we were powerful enough to get rid of Voldemort on our own, five teenagers and one boy of twenty-one.’

‘Malfoy?’

Sirius nodded. ‘We had it all worked out. Three of us worked from the Order of the Phoenix, and three of us worked from inside the Death Eaters. It could have worked too … if we’d had any sense.’

‘Who were the others? Who were the missing two? Was my father one?’ Harry asked in a rush.

‘Yes. There was Remus, James and me in the Order, and Severus, Lucius and Regulus in the Death Eaters. The Gryffindors and the Slytherins, all very apt. Don’t run away with the idea that we were all the best of mates all the time. We fought and bickered with one another most of the time, but we had a common goal. You see, Harry, we were all very powerful. We were the most powerful generation born for a long time,’ Sirius said. ‘Every now and again a single powerful wizard is born,’ he went on, ‘like Dumbledore and Voldemort himself, and you for that matter, but for six boys of extraordinary power to be born within a handful of years of one another was very unusual. And we squandered that power,’ he said quietly, shaking his head at the futility of it all, ‘and lives as well.’

‘How did they get you back from behind the Veil, Sirius?’ Harry frowned, harking back to his original question; he hoped he could keep Sirius talking until he had all the answers he needed. ‘Malfoy went to Azkaban.’

‘It wasn’t easy. Snape and Lupin had to go and do the incantations in Lucius’s cell. He wasn’t too happy about me walking out as Padfoot again, while he was locked up for something he’d got roped into. It was a mess.’

Harry made a face. ‘It was all my fault, wasn’t it?’

‘Not really, it was our fault as well. We should have made sure you knew more than you did. We were all at fault there. Secrets,’ Sirius said sourly. ‘Too many secrets.’

‘Couldn’t you bring back my dad … and Regulus then, the way you came back?’ Harry asked.

‘No, Harry. You see, I wasn’t dead, they were. It’s very different.’

Harry thought about that for a moment; however reluctantly he admitted it to himself, it seemed to make sense. There was so much he wanted to know; he wanted to grab at the chance of finding out about the past, a past that he’d thought was completely lost to him. ‘What happened?’ he asked. ‘I mean when you were younger?’

‘We were too clever to listen,’ Sirius replied. ‘Dumbledore had found out about us. To say he wasn’t pleased, was an understatement. Of course, that was a cue for us to be even more secretive in what we did. He warned us, and we just didn’t listen.’ He gave Harry a long serious look. ‘Don’t do that one, Harry; don’t keep secrets. If you don’t want to tell me, make sure you tell someone. Do you understand what I’m saying?’ He gave an involuntary look to where Snape still watched from the upstairs window.

‘I think so. You’re telling me to trust Snape, aren’t you?’

‘I’m telling you that if you trust no one else on this earth, including me, you must trust him.’

‘I think I know that now. What happened, Sirius?’ Harry repeated, and pushed his glasses up on his nose, remembering all the times Dumbledore had tried to instil into him the fact that he trusted Snape. ‘What went so wrong?’

‘You know already that Voldemort had split himself up. Well, we did much as you’re trying to do now, searching for the Horcruxes. We thought if we got them all together, we could somehow recreate him and destroy him; in fact Severus still believes that. He thinks that just destroying one part at a time isn’t good enough.’ Sirius lit a cigarette and let the smoke drift from it as he thought. ‘Regulus managed to get hold of Salazar Slytherin’s necklace; we never found out how. He was dead by the time I got back to Grimmauld Place. Lupin and I found him. Merlin alone knows how he staggered back there, but he did, and he still had the necklace. We knew then that Voldemort had found out about us. I suspected Severus of that one.’ He sighed deeply. ‘Another of my stunning mistakes. Voldemort set out to kill us one by one. Poor Reggie was first, little shit that he was, then James, and well, you know most of the rest.’

‘Sirius,’ Harry said reproachfully, ‘what about the bits you’re not telling me? Why did you and Snape fight so much? Why did you send him to the Shack?’

‘A lot of it’s personal. But the Shack incident was years before, we got over that; for some reason it has descended into folklore. It’s really not significant. I wasn’t a very nice person, Harry,’ he said suddenly. Then he seemed to think again for a while, before going on. ‘Your mum and dad were about to get married. Reggie was going out with a girl. There were even a few rumours about Lucius and Lupin, something I never bothered to investigate; I suppose I didn’t want to know. I’m sure you’ve noticed I don’t like Lucius much. Anyway, I was stuck in a relationship with Severus that I couldn’t seem to drag myself out of.’

‘You and Snape?’ Harry was genuinely shocked. Of all of the permutations, that one hadn’t occurred to him as a real possibility; he’d assumed they’d fought over a girl, he’d even cast his own mother in the vacant role.

Sirius gave him a quizzical look. ‘Oh yes, I thought you’d guessed that much. Anyway, as I said, I wasn’t a very nice person. I had too much money, too high an opinion of myself, and too much time on my hands. I tried to break up with him. I wanted someone smart, maybe a nice pure-blood aristocrat. A boy or a girl, I wasn’t fussy, as long as it wasn’t him, and they were what I considered good enough for me. I know, I know,’ he said with a deep sigh, ‘but I was a master of double standards.’

‘The blood didn’t seem to worry Malfoy, if he had an affair with Lupin,’ Harry pointed out a bit defensively. ‘And Lily was a Muggle.’

‘I know. There was always something romantic about Lupin though, he was so handsome and gentle and clever … and Lily, well, Lily was just Lily, clever too, and lots of fun, and extremely pretty. Funny, it never occurred to me at the time that she was Muggle-born. And all I had was the dour, ugly Severus Snape, about as socially acceptable as herpes.’

‘Well, if you didn’t like him, what was the problem?’ Harry asked with a frown.

‘I didn’t like him,’ Sirius agreed with a tight smile. ‘No one liked him; he’s not very likeable. That was what made it all so easy.’

‘What?’ Harry almost held his breath as he pushed his godfather for more information, and found himself remembering what he had seen of Snape’s early recollections in Dumbledore’s Pensieve; now that he looked at the memory objectively, Harry could see a very unhappy boy. He wondered what had happened next, what he would have seen if Snape hadn’t interrupted him. He found himself glad that he had, glad, and almost ashamed that he’d eavesdropped on his misery.

‘He wouldn’t accept that we were finished, and I couldn’t seem to break away. I thought he’d put some kind of curse on me. So I systematically destroyed him.’

‘How?’

‘I don’t want to talk about this any more,’ Sirius said flatly, as he lit one cigarette with the butt of the other and ground the finished one out with his heel, as though he were trying to bury the past in the stony sand along with the cigarette stub.

‘I think you do, or you wouldn’t have said this much.’ Harry stood his ground.

For a while it seemed as though Sirius wouldn’t reply; he sat smoking and looking into the distance at nothing. Harry had a feeling he was presenting his own case to himself in the best light he could find, and still found it wanting.

At last he turned to Harry, looking at him as though he were hoping for some sort of understanding. ‘I spread the most unpleasant rumours about him, ugly cheap rumours that were so easy to believe about an ugly cheap boy. There was more, much, much more I’m not prepared to go into; you really had to be there to understand. In the end no one even spoke to him, not that they ever had much; they avoided him like the plague, except for Lucius. It was about then that I realised that I hadn’t met anyone; the great Sirius Black didn’t want to go out with any of the queue of prospects James and the rest presented to me … and it was too late.’ Sirius stopped talking for a moment, as though he were summoning the courage to purge the rest of his shame. ‘I found out later that he’d tried to kill himself. He would have managed too, if Andromeda hadn’t turned up unexpectedly and found him gagging up some awful potion he’d concocted… he was ill for weeks. I don’t think he knows that I know that; I think the only people who knew were Lucius and Andromeda, and I expect your word that it will stay that way.’

‘Of course.’ Harry nodded quickly in agreement. He had to remind himself that only a few short weeks ago he would have revelled in the information that now only saddened him in the oddest way. ‘Who told you?’ he asked.

‘Andromeda flung it at me just before James and Lily died. Now I really want to leave it there, Harry; I’m not proud of what I did.’

‘And you’re still in love with him?’ Harry said quietly. It wasn’t really a question, not one he needed an answer to. He looked up at the window and smiled a little to himself again; it wasn’t Harry that Snape was looking out for, it was Sirius. Of all of the adolescent love stories he’d found himself enduring this year, this one was the most poignant.

*****

Harry was sure he’d looked at all of the portraits of Rowena Ravenclaw now. Hermione had unearthed a catalogue of the founders’ portraits, and she’d crossed them off, one by one.

‘There’s no brooch, Harry,’ she said in frustration. ‘Let me see the rhyme again.’

Harry handed her the copy of the rhyme that Snape had written out for him in his spidery hand. There was a list of all of the bits and pieces he’d asked for below it; Harry could hardly read the jagged scrawl, even his handwriting looked angry.

‘I’d better start getting this stuff together,’ he muttered as he squinted over Hermione’s shoulder at the second item, trying to understand what it was. ‘Merlin alone knows what he wants all this stuff for, unless he’s decided to make an atomic bomb.’

Hermione tore the bottom off the parchment and handed Harry back his shopping list. ‘You do your breaking and entering; I want to think about this. I might not go to the Burrow, Harry. I think I should stay here, just in case you need anything done here. Ron’s got to go with Molly and Arthur to Romania next week anyway.’

He looked at her gratefully. He’d secretly hoped that she wasn’t going to follow Ron to the Burrow; Hermione was too clever not to use. ‘Thanks, but what will you do when I’m not here?’

‘There are still books I haven’t read, Harry. Anyway, Professor McGonagall’s here, and so are a few of the other teachers, so I’ll be fine.’ Hermione gave him a furtive little look, and cocked her head to the side; he thought she looked very pretty when she did it. She held up a tiny vial which seemed to have something inside it, and a little bottle of greyish liquid which he suspected was Polyjuice. ‘This might let Draco come with you next time.’ She smiled her knowing smile. ‘But, Harry, promise me you won’t do it if you haven’t cleared it with Professor Snape.’

‘Thanks, Hermione,’ he repeated as he took the vial of Ron Weasley’s hair. He gave her cheek a little kiss; he felt very gallant about that.

*****

Harry had only one more thing to do before he went back to the safe house, an unscheduled stop, one he hadn’t discussed with anyone. He had been going to talk to Hermione about it, but something changed his mind; he didn’t want to be talked out of what he thought was the right thing to do.

He let his hand fall on the door, sure that he was already being watched.

He was shown into a room off a long oak-panelled hallway; it smelt of polish and great age and money. He suspected he had been left longer than necessary to cool his heels; that amused him a little. He turned slowly when the elf came into the room again.

‘My mistress will see the half-blood now.’

‘Charming.’ Harry smiled and swept past it, enormously pleased with how he had conducted himself; it was good fun playing at being a gentleman. He had a sudden insight that that was what Lucius Malfoy did; he played a game … Harry hoped he hadn’t loaded the dice.

Narcissa Malfoy stood behind a deep red chaise. Her white-blonde hair was swept up into a chignon, and she was wearing a black silk robe, buttoned high on her neck as though to repel invaders. She was as beautiful as Harry remembered, and appeared just as cold.

‘Well, well, the mighty Dumbledore has fallen, and I am left to duel with a whelp,’ she said with an arch of a fine blonde eyebrow.

‘Madam.’ Harry smiled graciously, making no sign that he noticed the tiny shake of her head. He was proud of the way he ignored Bellatrix lounging on the chaise, her face a mask of contempt. ‘I am sure you know I am not alone. A duel by all means, if you care to take us on. However, I have merely called to inform you that it would be unwise for you and your associates to attend Professor Dumbledore’s funeral.’ It was a scanty excuse for his being there, but Harry hadn’t been able to think up anything else at such short notice. He hadn’t thought this out properly; he hadn’t allowed for Narcissa having company. He was quite impressed with his wording though.

Narcissa gave a tinkling little laugh. ‘Let me assure you, Potter, that we had no intention of attending that charade.’ She paused, and Harry was quite sure of the warning shake of her head this time. ‘But now I feel that we may attend, for the sport of it. What say you, Bella?’

Her sister turned to her with a laugh. ‘Shall I see this baby off the premises, Cissa? Only my wand hand needs exercise.’

‘I think I can manage,’ Narcissa replied. ‘I’ll do it in person. If he is anything like our late unlamented cousin I couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t pilfer the family silver on the way out.’ She lifted a wine bottle from the table and topped up her sister’s almost full glass. ‘I shan’t be long.’

Harry allowed himself to be ushered from the room into the hallway, empty for now of all but portraits of long-forgotten Malfoys.

‘This way, Potter; don’t think you’re going out by anything but the tradesman’s entrance.’

He followed Narcissa into the deserted kitchen, and watched her search the place with her eyes and her mind, seeming to satisfy herself that she was alone. The woman who turned back to him was fretful and anxious; he knew he had done the right thing.

‘Draco is safe, Mrs Malfoy. I only came to let you know that.’

‘Where is he, boy? Is Severus with him?’ she asked in a hurry, clutching at his sleeve.

‘Please don’t ask me anything; I can’t answer you. I just felt you should know that.’

‘You humble me beyond words.’ She put a hand on his shoulder. ‘Do not come back here, Potter. It is not a safe place for you.’

He nodded to where they had come from. ‘You had better get back.’

‘Potter, I have been married to one of the Knight Protectors of the Shield of Merlin for long enough to know they have set aside their common differences again and are working even now at freeing us from this … this …’ She trailed off, at a loss for words.

‘Nightmare?’ he suggested. Harry turned the name over in his head; the Knight Protectors of the Shield of Merlin; he hadn’t thought to ask Sirius if they had a name. For some reason he thought Malfoy had dreamed that up; it was certainly grandiose enough.

‘As good a word as any,’ she replied. ‘There is no affection, and never has been, between Lucius and myself; there is, however, the bond of mutual respect … but like all ladies I enjoy a few secrets. He does not know that I am Legilimens, and he therefore does not know that I know he is no longer in Azkaban.’

Harry nodded his understanding of her unasked question. ‘Lucius is safe as well.’

‘May Merlin watch you, Harry,’ she replied, surprising him, ‘and make you equal to your task. Go now, boy.’

*****



His Own True Heir by Scaranda [Reviews - 2]

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