Act I - Trials of Summer

Chapter 15 - Derailed


It was an apt epithet for the thing Harry found himself becoming in his nightmares. Despite all attempts, he could never remember anything aside from a grizzly mass of shadows lining in and around raw bones with something that couldn't be considered a mouth in any form. And that alien feeling— the hunger, the urge to kill, the absolute knowledge that the world itself was his to swallow—

He shook his head. He'd have more time for reflection later.

"Why do you call me that?"

Kreacher— yes, thinking of it as Kreacher rather than the Lar was infinitely easier and more palatable than the molten darkness that he'd seen it arise from — merely tilted his head, his expression enigmatic and not at all friendly.

"You cannot possibly be that stupid."

Harry folded his arms. "I have dreams about it. I don't understand even a bit of what it means, but given everything that's been happening to me recently, that's not too surprising. But if you're actually the House," he narrowed his eyes, "then you must know something about the wraith that attacked me."

Kreacher remained silent.

"Sirius told me I was family," he pressed on. "That's why the Mind Fog around the House doesn't affect me. So then why did the wraith attack me? What is it? Who is it?"

The elf's ears flopped from one side to the other as he shook his head.

Harry growled. "I'm a son of the House of Black. This is the Black Manor. It's my right to know if there's something in my own home that wants to kill me."

"Oh?" As Kreacher smiled, the darkness behind him deepened. "I want to kill you, Harry Potter."

He withheld the flinch that was about to escape him. "Because you think I'm annoying?"

"Because I would enjoy it." Kreacher paused for a moment, seemingly in thought. "But also because you annoy me."

"It's one of my many gifts," Harry snarked back. "Asking annoying questions is another. Besides you, is there anyone, or anything, in this house that wants to kill me?"

"I house many secrets, several of which are beyond my ability to discern and reveal."

A non-answer. How wonderful.

"And you keep these secrets contained?"

The elf's eyes brightened. "As the Lar of House Black, I am the walls. The floor. The wards. I am ORDER."

"…Right. And these secrets you keep, are they going to be dangerous?"

"Secrets are always dangerous, Harry Potter. But they have the least opportunity to express it when I am awake."

Harry nervously swallowed. That was probably the closest thing he would get to an answer from the Lar. "Fine then," he scoffed, growing annoyed with this whole ordeal. "Tell me about the wraith."

"Mistress Walburga." The name was uttered no louder than a whisper, yet Harry heard it clear as day. The tone behind Kreacher's words was haunting and odd, as if he was referencing the name with both reverence and hatred at the same time.

And he recognized it instantly, too.

"Sirius's mom?"

Kreacher let out a rumbling laugh. "The Mistress was the last of the believers of Toujours Pur. After the demise of the Dark Lord, she grew restless and worried. Traumatized that mudbloods and muggle-lovers alike would come for her, to ruin her pure House of Black. In her paranoia, she cast a curse upon this House, powered by self-sacrifice, to keep it forever unwelcome to blood-traitors, mudbloods, beasts, and the like. Even being called a son of Master Sirius Black was not enough to negate the curse layered upon the wardstone of the Manor."

It didn't take a genius to connect the dots. "So Walburga Black remained a wraith to keep people like me from coming into her home. She and the doxies—" he quickly glanced around, wondering if he was going to be attacked again. "What became of her anyway?"

Kreacher tilted his head again. "Are you feigning ignorance, Demon?"

"Quit calling me that," Harry snapped back. "And no, I don't know anything about it."

The guardian-deity of House Black let out a soft, rumbling chuckle. The noise grated against Harry's ears. "You erased her."

He stared. "I… what?"

"You. Erased. Her," Kreacher slowly repeated, as if speaking to a small, dull child. "The curse layered upon her sacrifice is now neutered. With Lord Black taking ownership of the wardstone, all lingering traces of the enchantment will be voided."

Harry let out a breath he didn't even know he was holding. This was all good news. But—

"How come nothing attacked me while Sirius was here?"

Kreacher's eyes gleamed.

"No, wait. Nevermind. Sirius is the Lord, and attacking me in his presence would involve him. Walburga Black does seem like the type to sneak up on teenagers when they're alone and vulnerable."

The elf cackled. "One wonders how it is possible to be so vague yet accurate all at once."

A small grin slipped onto Harry's face. Had someone told him three months ago that he'd be trading quips with an ancient, cruel, murderous manifestation of a House that possessed an elf, he'd have asked them if they spent too long breathing in fumes from Potions class.

"I have another question."

Kreacher shook his head. "As expected of annoying, meddlesome half-bloods. Speak."

"What do you know about House Peverell?"

Kreacher looked at him with incomprehension.

"What," Harry repeated, "do you know about the Peverells? Ancient House?"

A small frown appeared on the elf's ancient face. "Apparently, nothing. Has it anything to do with House Black?" he looked at Harry curiously. "Enlighten me."

"Ah," Harry mused, quickly realizing the problem. This was the House he was talking to, and the House only cared about its members, secrets, laws, and customs. It didn't care one whit about things outside of that— political factions, other Houses, the price of tea in China, and so on.

Groaning, Harry looked up. He had a Wizengamot trial in less than three weeks, where he'd be judged by a compromised, corrupt Ministry for a crime he didn't even remember committing. He'd lost his faithful wand, whose replacement wasn't working as well as it should have. His skills at Transfiguration and Charms were now beyond dreadful, and this was his OWLs year. He apparently transformed into something bestial that even a murder-happy House-possessed elf saw fit to call a Demon. He was the descendant of a family that got even the bloodthirsty goblin race excited for some reason he did not yet know.

And above all else, Voldemort had returned from the dead and was coming after him.


"The sad part is," he tiredly sighed, "this all actually feels normal. How bent is that?"

Kreacher growled softly, but said nothing.

"Same old, same old," Harry darkly muttered under his breath as he headed for the stairs, cutting his conversation with the house-elf short. "Still, it's nice to see that some things never change."

The chamber may as well have belonged to a Spartan king.

The furnishings were few and simple, but exquisitely crafted from only the most exceptional materials. A wooden panel framed the fireplace, stained with fine smoke and time to depict all sorts of archaic rituals and customs. Several chairs of deep, polished redwood and rich black leather sat around the fire, a tall, wooden table between them with the same gleaming finish. On top of it was an ornately designed ceramic bottle of 1841 Ogden's Firewhiskey and several glasses.

All in all, it was a picture perfect welcome.

"Do you think he'll like it?"

Lucius gave his wife a tight-lipped smile, but no other response.

The return of the Dark Lord, along with the events that followed, had thrown a hippogriff-sized wrench in his plans. His little tête-à-tête with Sirius Black had only exacerbated the matter. Sure, he was currently able to contain the fallout, but sooner or later, the kneazle would be out of the bag, and there was little he could do about it.

"Lucius?" Narcissa called again, "what do you think?"

"Ostentatious as always," Lucius kissed her cheek, his lips lingering near her earlobe. Twenty years into their marriage, yet Narcissa still drove him crazy like it was their honeymoon. Then again, she was a Black, and women from that lineage had an almost supernatural sensuality about them.

He felt her smile against his cheek.

"Did Cornelius floo you about something?"

The question transformed his face into a blank slate. Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, was a necessary evil at best. Working with him was like working with a runespoor— one had to constantly pay attention to all three heads, or else they'd never know if one slithered behind to bite them in the neck until it was too late.

What that man had been doing masquerading as a Hufflepuff while in Hogwarts was anybody's guess.

"So he did," Narcissa read the answer off his face.

"Cornelius is happy that House Black will not steer the alliance, and has absolute confidence in me to keep his election campaign well-funded. So long as his faith remains firm, things should continue in our desired direction."

"I see."

Lucius withheld a grimace. Signing the pact with Sirius Black had been both an excellent and terrible idea. Free of the Black Primacy, House Malfoy could now steer the Wizengamot on his own whims. And, if he were honest with himself, the constant reminder that his power and authority belonged to the Blacks was a source of frustration he was more than happy to shed.

But on the downside? House Malfoy was now going to have to muster the cash required to keep up the vassalage of the Parkinson, Crabbe, and Goyle families, not to mention the extravagant donations that went to various institutions, notably the Ministry itself.

And now, according to Boruslav Avery, the Dark Lord would be coming. To Malfoy Manor. That meant enormous amounts of gold would need to be splurged to fund his upcoming missions. Spies on the continent already whispered of Fenrir Greyback being active once more, and the Selwyns were in talks with the Russian clans.

Back in 1980, the Dark Lord had promised the Rostovsky and Romanova vampire clans entrance into the British Isles, in return for large sums of gold and vampire support in upcoming conflicts. The Transylvanian werewolf communities had been coerced, bought, and threatened into servitude. Everything was in place. Wizarding Britain had been on the precipice of a second Wizarding World War.

Then, the Halloween incident of 1981 happened. And the plans came to a standstill.

"Everything will change," Narcissa murmured. "Soon, the Dark Lord will use this mansion as his Headquarters. Our home will be the rallying call for the Death Eaters. Nothing will be the same. Again."

"It could prove to be a boon or a curse," Lucius diplomatically responded. "It establishes my reach in his New World Order, but also makes my movement restrictive. And it makes me vulnerable."

"It makes us vulnerable."

"You could always seek shelter with your cousin, Cissa." The statement incited a furious hiss from his irate wife. "Whatever his opinion of me and mine, he would never close the door on family."

Her fingers gripped his arm tightly. "I am not leaving you, or this family, or our home. We built everything together. Even if I have to see everything wash away into another bloody war, I will. But I won't abandon it and flee like a coward."

Last time around, Abraxas Malfoy had nearly ruined their family's finances by funneling everything they had into the Death Eater movement. It had taken Lucius fourteen years to get the Malfoy fortune back to a sizable level, a feat only possible from the generous aid of the Black Vaults.

But now?

"The Dark Lord will demand our complete and unconditional support," Lucius muttered, his voice wavering in strength. "I blamed my father last time. Who am I to blame this time around?"

He scratched the Dark Mark, which was now visibly emblazing along his left forearm. There had never been a day on which he hadn't despised having to deal with this… curse on the Malfoy family name. At least Narcissa had been excused from being branded like cattle thanks to the strict wording of her marriage contract about defining her loyalties.

"He shouldn't be back!" Lucius hissed in cold fury, his fists clenched and shaking. "We should have had more time! Just three more years, and Draco would have graduated. We could have moved to France!"

"There is no other option, Lucius. It's only a matter of time before he raids Azkaban and gets my dear sister out," she spat the word like it was the worst insult imaginable. "And Cousin Black had made it rather clear where he stands."

Lucius winced. To say Narcissa was furious with Sirius Black's stunt would've been a massive understatement. The pact of Détente may keep her from killing the Gryffindor and bathing in his entrails, but knowing her, she would exact a bloody vengeance in time.

And it would be glorious.

But that was then. And this is now.

He let out a mirthless chuckle. "And here I was planning on taking you to Greece for the summer, leaving Draco with the Greengrasses." For some reason, his son was obnoxiously attached to his so-called henchmen— the sons of Crabbe and Goyle —so much as to spurn the affections of Rosalyn Parkinson's daughter. Perhaps staying with Astoria Greengrass would have helped set him… straight.

Narcissa frowned. "What is going to happen about the deal with Artemis Greengrass?"

Now there was a silver lining to his clouds of depression. "It is temporarily on hold. For now," he quickly added.

"Really?" his wife arched an eyebrow. "I thought you'd be more concerned about it. Especially in light of recent events."

"Ah, don't worry too much about that one, my dear." He kissed Narcissa's earlobe as she purred in his arms. "Your wonderful husband happens to have an ace that will make sure we stay as winners in our deal with Artemis."

"And what's— aaah —that?"

Lucius grinned.

"Harry Potter."

The heavy door swung open, and Sirius's eyes roved over every last detail of the room.

His grandfather's study looked exactly like the last time he'd entered.

There was a roaring fire in the hearth to his right. A wide cherry desk sat in the top-right corner of the room; a matching table ran the length of the right wall and had an old pensieve as the central ornament. A tall cherry cabinet filled half the wallspace, floor to ceiling, to his left, no doubt containing intelligence, secrets, and blackmail material on a number of individuals and families. The rest of the walls were covered in bookshelves stacked tightly with all sorts of texts.

Stepping across the threshold, Sirius closed the door behind him and made his way over to the desk. Surprisingly, it was clean, devoid of dust and debris— just like Regulus's room, this one was kept under the care of status charms. And right above the desk, perched upon the wall, was a sleeping portrait of his grandfather.

Arcturus Sirius Black.

Summoning his Gryffindor courage and harnessing his Will as Lord Black, he touched the frame with his wand.

"Wake up," he whispered.

A ripple passed over the surface of the painting, and Arcturus Black, who was peacefully sleeping on a painted couch, stirred awake. His eyes blinked rapidly, before he stood up, straightening his robes. The man's face slowly twisted into a haughty, regal look as he gracefully took a seat on the reclining couch once more.

"Do I look fine?" he asked, extending his arms out.

Sirius rolled his eyes. Despite the man's grave demeanor, he was prone to melodrama and vanity at the most inopportune moments. Hell, half the time he'd seen the man on his visits to their château in Normandy, he'd found his grandfather preening in front of a mirror.

"Vanity, thy name is Arcturus Black."

"Sirius," the old man rumbled, his stormy grey eyes meeting Sirius's own. "I would say it's a surprise, but then I would be lying."

"You knew I'd come back someday?"

"Of course. After all, you are my Heir."

Sirius didn't know whether to feel complimented or insulted by that statement. Arcturus Black was, after all, a stone-cold, vindictive bastard as far as the wizarding world was concerned.

"What year is it?" the man in the portrait suddenly asked.


Arcturus cupped his chin. "I see. The last time I was updated was in 1981. In Normandy, I believe. The dragon-pox took me after that, I'm afraid."

Sirius nodded. The château in Normandy was one of the prime locations his grandfather had in mind, should the war turn south and he be forced to settle for an escape plan.

"I heard you were incarcerated and sent to prison. I did not wish to see Narcissa's spawn grow up and usurp my mantle." His eyes glowed brighter. "But now you have come as Lord Black, to take the mantle from me. You stand as I once stood in front of my father's portrait nearly a century ago."

"Sirius Arcturus Black. I know."

"When you were born, I recognized the spark in you. The very same spark that existed in both myself and my father— the blessing and curse of Hedetet." He paused. "Tell me, Lord Black, how did you become the Lord of the same House you had forsaken all those years ago?"

Sirius felt his grandfather's eyes rove over his face, feeling the familiar eeriness of having his mind read despite it being a portrait. The real deal had been an accomplished legilimens, and yet a mere facsimile could make him feel the same.

That in itself said a lot about Arcturus Sirius Black.

"I didn't return to the family for the name or power or authority it grants me," he proclaimed, gathering his thoughts carefully before speaking. "I returned for one reason, and one only. Because my godson needs me, and House Black offers him the best protection I can provide."

"Ah, yes," Arcturus's lips slightly twisted. "Harry Potter. The half-blood."

Sirius dangerously narrowed his eyes. "Half-blood or not, he is still my godson."

"More than that, I'd imagine," the portrait sneered. "Still, the brat has managed to bring back my Heir to his rightful place. For that alone, he has my blessings. As a son to the House of Black, several new doors will be opened to him."

Sirius scoffed. "The half-blood brat, as you call him, already has many doors open to him. He did bring about the end of the Dark Lord, after all."

"Tosh, grandson," Arcturus chuckled. "We both know that the pretender did nothing to earn such a title. He is a deviant, a leech who feeds upon magics he has no right to wield. A swindler who preys upon the ambitions and expectations of those with pure blood in their veins, upon their desires and naked ambitions."

That… actually described Voldemort to a tee. But still, Sirius didn't back down.

"He is also the Potter of the Potter family. He almost claimed the Von Hohenheim name through his mother's side. And most importantly," Sirius smirked, "he's an affirmed and acknowledged descendant of the Peverells."

The portrait froze.

"Say that again!"

"He's a true descendant of Peverell. Ignotus Peverell, from his father's side."

"A true Peverell…" Arcturus croaked, with something akin to awe and reverence. "A rarity among rarities indeed. How did such a gem miss my eye?"

"You were looking at him through a tinted lens."

"Perhaps," the portrait gravely nodded, acknowledging the sharp rebuke. "Does he… does he know about his inheritance? About his history?"

"It hasn't come up yet," Sirius said. "We found out about it earlier this morning. I've never seen the goblins that excited before."

"They would be," his grandfather snorted. "You have made him a son of House Black, you say. A good decision. One would wonder if you knew about the family connection from the onset."

"What do you think?"

"Of course you didn't," Arcturus sighed, before frowning again. "Tell me this, Sirius. Unless I altered the Black Charter after updating my portrait— a behavior I would find most vexing —how did you manage to adopt the boy into our family?"

Sirius smirked again. This was going to be a long discussion. But he was going to enjoy it.

"Come in, Severus."

Albus Dumbledore sat comfortably on his chair, watching from behind his desk as Severus Snape stumbled through the oaky door. His Potions Master's ashen face was lined with worry, looking rather browbeaten as he sagged down into his seat. He offered his companion a sympathetic nod.

"Rough day, I presume?"

Severus visibly exhaled, but said nothing.

Albus watched him with interest. Ever since the night of the Third Task, things had been rather difficult for the Potions instructor. The problem had started when, in a moment of haste, he brandished his own Dark Mark in front of Cornelius in a misguided attempt to prove the Dark Lord was back. The Minister, as expected, had not realized the significance of the deed and instead complained to Lucius about Death Eaters being hired at Hogwarts.

To say that Lucius Malfoy had reacted badly was an understatement.


Severus hissed furiously at the mention of the name, tightly clenching his eyes shut. His entire body convulsed for a while, before he just… sat. Still as stone.

"…I'm sorry?" Albus offered.

Severus opened his eyes and began to speak, but no words came out of his mouth. He tried again.

Nothing happened.

Finally, he let out a bitter sigh.

"You cannot speak of it," Albus mused. "The name incites a reaction in you. Through your mark, I presume."

Severus nodded.

Curious. Albus could feel no changes on the wards. No proximity alerts, no detection spells going off, no brute force entries. Nothing at all. Then again, Tom knew that he knew about his origins. If the name was put under a Taboo again, the Dark Mark would act as a receptor and relay information to Tom himself.

Even so…

Severus didn't meet his gaze, choosing instead to focus on his nose. "It is a sad thing the Prince family threw my mother out. They'd missed out on quite the trait."

"That they did," Albus agreed. In all his time as an educator, he had taught an immense number of students, many with their own magical affinities. Some had elemental proclivities while others took to runecraft like fish to water. But perhaps one in every hundred students ended up possessing a magical trait.

And Natural Occlumency… That was among the rarest of them all, so much so that he'd only ever seen two students in his entire lifetime who had possessed it. Tom Marvolo Riddle and Severus Tobias Snape.

People often wondered why he had Severus of all people spy on the Dark Lord. Despite the man's caustic demeanor and the demons in his closet, he nevertheless trusted him completely. That was without question. But perhaps more importantly, Severus was the only one for the job, able to stand there, look the Dark Lord in the eye, and still maintain his cover.

"The Taboo is active again," Severus spoke up. "And there are easier ways to eavesdrop for information than smashing through the wards of Hogwarts."

Albus nodded. He knew what an agony it would have been to fight the Dark Lord's legilimency probe. One of the abilities of the Dark Mark was acting as a backdoor to the mind of the bearer. There would be— could be —no secrets hidden from the Dark Lord once he branded them as part of his Inner Circle.

Loyalty was no pledge. It was a condition enforced by magic rather than the purity of faith.

And yet, Severus Snape was alive. That was all that needed to be said about it.

"Severus," Albus asked, peering over his half-moon spectacles, "is there anything you wish to tell me?"

The Potions Master's bloodshot eyes were indicative of severe trauma. He hadn't the faintest what the man had been through, but for a man as normally withdrawn and impassive as Severus Snape to break down like this, it must have been something overwhelming.

"Conjure me a vial."

With a simple flick of his wand, Albus did as asked. Severus lifted his own wand to his temples, drawing out a thick, silvery strand and placing it into the crystal vial. Stoppering it, Albus put it into one of the vial stands on the table.

"He sent Boruslav Avery to get me," Severus finally croaked, as if it hurt to speak. "I don't know where it is, or how it looks, or how to get there."

"A fidelius?" Albus probed.

Severus closed his eyes. "I… cannot say. The— he is different. He feels different, like he is somehow… more. He told me he had offered Potter immunity thrice, yet the boy rejected it to his face."

Albus nodded. Harry had shared as much during his questioning with Amelia Bones.

"But despite that, he is still willing to forgive the indiscretion should Potter join his side. He is also willing to see his friends safe and unharmed in return for Potter's complete allegiance."

The old headmaster felt his heart hammering in his chest. What Severus was telling him was… surreal. For a man as shackled by his own ego as Tom? No, it had to be a hoax. A plant, a mental game that Tom was trying to play with him. And yet—

Albus Dumbledore, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and defeater of Gellert Grindelwald, gulped. Such a hoax, despite its nature, could prove to be deadlier than a killing curse. He knew for a fact that Harry's insular upbringing and his experiences thereafter were far from stellar. Given the finicky nature of the Wizarding World— its bigotry, and the way the press and Ministry were tearing him apart —there was nothing tying Harry to Wizarding Britain, save for his friends and godfather.

But if Voldemort himself assured him of their safety, and kept his word, it was a moot point.

"The Dark Lord," Severus continued, "he— he offered me a memory. Of that night. And then he told me to—" his face tensed, "to show it to you?"

"To me?" Albus sharply breathed.

"You'll understand," Severus hissed, turning his gaze towards the Sorting Hat. "When you… See."

Albus blinked.


Severus nodded. "See."


He was talking about the Sight. It was an ability to perceive the world around them in a vastly broadened spectrum of interacting forces. A dangerous gift, often likened to a curse, it allowed one to perceive things they would otherwise never be able to interact with. Matter, energy, magic… it showed the world as it was— beauty enough to make one weep, terrors that could forever take away sound sleep.

Whatever one saw— the good, the bad, the insanity-inducing —it stuck with them forever. It would never be forgotten, nor could time blur the memories. It was forever theirs.


"Severus, did you…"

"I don't have the Sight, Headmaster." His face looked like it had bit into a lemon. "But the— he made me see his memory. Through his senses."

"I… see. I will check it out." Albus paused, before continuing. "Why do you think he wanted me to See it?"

Severus laughed a cold, mirthless laughter. "Not all battles are won by bloodshed, Headmaster. Some wars are fought in the mind, in the heart. You cannot fight if you don't have a cause, can you?"

Albus frowned. "I am afraid I don't understand what you're—"

The Potions Master kicked his chair back and stood up, bitterly laughing all the while. "If you have any need for me, Headmaster, I will be in my quarters. I refuse to see it a second time."

And with that, he turned around and quickly trudged down the stairs, leaving a pensive old man staring at the memory-filled vial with shock and a little bit of trepidation.

Editor: Solo Starfish, the best goddamn starfish the world has ever seen.

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