Act I - Trials of Summer
Chapter 18 - Obligations
Harry leaned his head against the window. His short, impromptu meeting with the Headmaster had ended with him stomping back to his room, leaving Sirius and Emma to continue with Order business.
"Professor Dumbledore refused to train me."
After the whole affair— which included both Mr. and Mrs. Weasley talking down to him like a mere child and Albus Dumbledore, the man he'd looked up to like a grandfather, going back on his word —Sirius wasted no time in forcibly drawing the Order meeting to a close. And when Mrs. Weasley and Moo— Lupin protested, he had outright ordered Kreacher to take offensive action against any Order member still within the premises after ten seconds.
It hadn't been pretty.
Even now, from a floor above, he could hear Sirius yelling in the background. He could only imagine how infuriated the man was, having the organization he sheltered go back on the word they gave him. A cold, cynical part of Harry felt oddly glad that someone was infuriated on his behalf for once.
Harry shook his head and counted to five.
And then sighed. As always, it didn't help.
Hedwig, who sat perched on the windowsill all this time, came trotting over. She stood by his hand and stared at him with her beady, all-knowing eyes. After a moment, she made a little scoffing noise, slowly rubbing her head against his sleeves before knocking his wand over with her feet. Once the magical foci rolled into his palm, she swooped back into her favorite position and gave a long-drawn hoot, as if to say mission accomplished.
Harry couldn't help but chuckle at her antics, but his frown soon returned.
"He was supposed to train me to fight against Voldemort. Or, at the very least, to hold my ground. But now that I'm not playing nice, he's perfectly willing to hang me out to dry."
Hedwig hooted at him, causing him to frown to deepen.
"He can go suck on his lemon drops, Hed. I am not apologizing."
It didn't matter anyway. Sirius had instantly promised to teach him instead. Hadn't Amelia Bones mentioned how Sirius was absolutely deadly with a wand? So what if Professor Dumbledore wasn't willing to step up? It wasn't like the man was the greatest wizard alive or the only person Voldemort ever feared or anything, right?
Harry groaned at his own weak denials. At this rate, he'd be mimicking Fudge by the end of the week.
Hedwig made an uncertain, high-pitched noise.
"Oh yeah? How do you think I feel?" he challenged, before suddenly standing up. "You know what? I need a drink. Sirius must have some of that firewhiskey stored in the cellar here. I'll go look for it."
His snowy owl hooted at him balefully.
"Don't give me that look, Hed," Harry wagged his finger. "Sirius let me drink as a celebration yesterday, and I need something a little stronger than butterbeer for all this."
Hedwig made a distressed noise and rose into the air, flapping her wings as she perched onto his shoulder.
"Sure, we can go and see if there's a rat or two in the cellar too. I just—"
A brown blur dive-bombed through the open window, narrowly missing Harry's head as it soared across the room, much to Hedwig's angry protests. The mail owl dropped the large envelope it was carrying in its beak at his feet and turned gracefully, the tips of its wings just barely brushing the top of the fridge. Without any prompting, it zoomed back outside again, and soon became a speck in the sky.
"…Well, that just happened."
Hedwig's furious screeches made Harry wonder where the hell his beautiful, pristine, innocent, snowy pet learned to swear like that.
"A letter," he mused. Crouching down to pick it up, he froze mid-step, recognizing the stupidity of his actions. Instead, he whipped out his wand and readied himself to cast one of the few diagnostic spells he'd picked up over the years—
Harry's face scrunched up, like he'd bitten into a lemon. No, he couldn't trust himself not to accidentally blow up the letter, not with his magic the way it was. Especially if it was something important.
"Yes, young Master?"
Harry inwardly shuddered. He didn't need to look to know that the strange elf was standing right behind him. After all his experiences with the Lar, he'd just accepted the fact that the house-elf was everywhere. Watching, waiting, listening. It was like having your one personal stalker, if said stalker was possessed by an entire bloody House.
When did his life become this crazy?
Oh, that's right. It always was.
"Can you check if that letter is safe?"
"Of course." Kreacher snapped his fingers. The envelope emanated a bluish glow for a few seconds as it floated inches above the ground. Then, as the glow faded, it fell down like a marionette with its strings severed. "It is safe."
Harry nodded. It was the best he could do, for now. Kreacher was leagues ahead of him at identifying enchantments and curses, since the best he could do was identify a prank once in a while. But the question was one of trust rather than ability.
Picking it up gingerly between his thumb and forefinger, he slowly counted to five in his head.
When nothing cursed him or tried to eat his face off, he slowly tore open the envelope and pulled out the contents. Inside was a letter with an elaborate seal engraved on top. His eyes drifted towards the identity of the sender, and then widened.
The Noble and Ancient House of Greengrass
Dum Spiro Spero
While I breathe, I hope.
"That conniving bastard!"
Sirius had been a Hit-wizard, one of the best. In essence, he used to be a professional hit-man, a sophisticated killer who specialized in hunting Dark wizards. Rufus Scrimgeour was no Alastor Moody, but the old lion had taught him many things, including the negative effects of emotion on magic.
It was the only reason why he hadn't already succumbed to his rage and started throwing spells around.
Dumbledore's rejection had been a shock. The old man, like a true Slytherin, had played on his emotions. Offering to train Harry without demanding anything in return, he'd scored points in Sirius's mind. Having done that, he then politely asked for the use of the House as a headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix in return for his aid with the wardstone issues. For the man helping keep his godson alive, Sirius easily agreed to his conditions.
But now, Albus Dumbledore had openly denied Harry tutelage during the summer in a brazen display of broken trust. The same tutelage that had been the bedrock of the very deal the old coot had squirreled out of him.
All because he'd taken Harry to Gringotts and helped him claim what was rightfully his. Helped him finally become his own man.
And now that all was said and done, Sirius was still oath-bound to offer the House as Order Headquarters, even though he wanted nothing to do with the old man or his blasted organization. It was a ruthless, humiliating defeat to his person, both as Harry's godfather as well as Lord Black, and Dumbledore had the temerity to pull something like that on him while standing in his own home.
At the very heart of Sirius's power.
The Black Magic demanded vindication. Vengeance. Retribution.
"Sirius," Emmeline warned in a soft, controlled voice. "You need to let it out. Rant. Scream. Whatever. Just talked to me, please."
"Because talking always solves the problem," he growled.
Truthfully, Sirius was surprised as hell at his own controlled reactions. He could feel his emotions stirring somewhere deep within him, gathering power like a storm far out at sea. He couldn't see them, only feel their lingering effects, but it was enough to know that whatever was rising inside him was potent and dangerous.
Magic and emotions were tied up inextricably. Sirius had been knee-deep in battle before, felt the terror and rage of his environment choke him, making it difficult to think clearly even through the simplest of problems. Even in those dire circumstances, he had used magic— and some of those times, he'd seen it run wild as a result. When the average wizard lost control of their anger, someone got hurt, perhaps even killed. But for him, it could end up even worse.
He used to be a professional killer. And though Azkaban dulled his instincts, it had sharpened his ferocity.
And the emotions stirring within him made his prior battle rage feel like a purring kitten.
"I know you're angry—"
"Angry?" he half-laughed, half-choked out. "I burn things to ash and smash holes in buildings when I'm angry. I'd say I'm a few steps beyond that point right now."
"And you have every right to be," Harry's healer soothed. "Honestly, it's unfortunate that I still have to join the Order at all."
"I'm sure it must suck to be Amelia's bitch and everything."
Emmeline had come clean to him the previous night, about her private business with Amelia Bones. Knowing the old bat, Sirius had not been too surprised to hear about the woman's high-handed manipulations. Bones had never been afraid to dream big, but to actively thumb her nose against Dumbledore and Fudge in the current climate?
It was ambitious, even for her.
The fact that Bones had tried to gain information about Harry's whereabouts by taking advantage of a healer like Emmeline had only worsened his opinion of her, good intentions be damned.
"I don't want to go through this again with you, Sirius," Emmeline bit back, a spark of anger in her eyes. "I'm not going to tattle on you like a little girl."
"Maybe, maybe not. But taking unnecessary chances has lost its appeal to me," Sirius spat. "I hired you as Harry's healer. I trusted you with his well-being, with secrets. But it turns out that you, just like everyone else, have some kind of secret agenda."
She pressed her lips together, then tersely nodded. "Alright. If you wish for me to leave the House right now, I will. I have made it fully clear that I've never violated my Guest rights. That said, I will no longer accept insinuations against my character in any form. If that is all—" she abruptly stood up.
Sirius stared at her for a few moments, before looking away.
"Sorry," he apologized, breaking the heavy silence that engulfed the room. "I'm just a bit…"
He merely sighed in acquiescence. "Voldemort's back now, and my godson needs all the help he can get. But Dumbledore— he—"
"Hey, I get it. I'm with you." Emmeline gently pushed him towards the couch, her arm lightly brushing his. "Come, sit down. I want to suggest something, if you're willing to listen."
Sirius took a deep breath as he sat down. "Alright, I'm listening."
"Amelia has a power base, but it's incomplete without proper backing from the Wizengamot. Bones, McMillan, Abbot, and Longbottom together present a united front, but they themselves cannot be a deciding factor. Dumbledore and Malfoy have their own established factions. But given your deal with Lucius Malfoy and now this… debacle with Albus, it's clear you need a third option."
"And you want me to back Bones?"
Surprisingly, Emmeline shook her head. "I want Bones to back you. Bones is strong, and she has a loyal following in the DMLE, but she's a bureaucrat, not an active politician. And that won't change regardless of how much she tries to be. If she leads the way, she will be an easy target for opponents to hone in on. But if Houses Black and Potter, strengthened with alliances, present a united front—"
"Then Bones becomes a mere representative," Sirius sighed, "at the expense of myself and Harry. It's a fucked up deal, Miss Vance."
"Language," she lightly chastised. "And it's Emma. Don't forget, this also gives you the proper stage to exert your own powers at the same time. If you win, you take Fudge out of the equation. Between Amelia's hard-earned support in the DMLE, you can overpower Lucius Malfoy's faction. Two out of three opponents. Is that so bad?"
He narrowed his eyes at her. "Let's get one thing straight. Even if that is an option, my highest priority is Harry's safety and the success of the upcoming trial. Everything else can wait. I don't care if I have to sully myself by shaking hands with the lowest scum on the planet if it means he is safe and happy. Do we understand each other?"
Emmeline— Emma looked up at him with her large, shining, dark eyes. "Yes," she replied, after a moment of thoughtful silence. "I believe we do."
Suddenly, he realized they were sitting close to one another. A bit too close.
"Sirius," Emma whispered, hesitantly reaching out a hand, "I'm really, really sorry for—"
He turned his face sharply towards Harry, who raced through the door, clutching a letter of all things in his hand. Curiosity, and a healthy amount of paranoia, flooding his mind, he pushed himself off of the couch and rushed towards him.
"Harry? What is it—"
"This came via owl," his godson replied, panting all the while. "It was addressed to me and I— I—"
"Alright, slow down. What is all this about?"
He grabbed the letter from Harry's hand and quickly scanned through the documents. Reaching the end, he blinked, before rereading from the beginning. Finally, as the words clicked in his mind, he lifted his head and stared at Harry with a befuddled expression and said—
"Language," Emma chided.
Dear Mr. Harry Potter,
My most heartfelt felicitations upon your becoming the next Lord Potter. My name is Artemis Greengrass, formerly of House Pince. Forgive my presumption, but I believe you may not know that your grandmother Euphemia Potter was the elder sister of Camilla Greengrass, my mother-in-law.
I would like to take this opportunity to formally greet you. My dear daughter Daphne is currently in your year, sorted in Slytherin House, and she recounts that you have a public disdain for her House and its members. That has led me to believe you have taken an unfavorable stance against our family, and refused to acknowledge us as your relatives. However, news of your recent ascension makes me wonder if you were simply unaware of your status all along.
With this in mind, I write this letter, hoping to find you in the best of health. While I understand that you may be occupied by your upcoming trial, I request an audience with you at my family manor, along with any chaperone you see fit to bring along. I would like to discuss a certain maledictus with you, one that was placed upon the Greengrass bloodline. As you are one of the two remaining true Greengrasses left upon this earth, it is only right you are informed about its circumstances.
I have already lost my wife Anastasia to the maledictus, and as unfortunate as it is, I believe both you and Daphne share her curse. It is my desire to meet you and speak face-to-face, all pleasantries aside. I assure you, in the name of the Noble and Ancient House of Greengrass, that your safety during this meeting is guaranteed under Guest rights.
I look forward to meeting you soon, young man.
Regent of the Noble and Ancient House of Greengrass
"A maledictus?" Emma palmed her mouth, staring at Harry with growing trepidation. "That's— that's—"
"That's a lie!" Sirius growled, his entire form trembling. His expression looked very much like the grim he turned into. "It's a bloody LIE, that's what this is!"
Harry wondered if the letter would tear apart with how tightly it was clenched in his godfather's fingers. Even now, he could feel power rolling off of him in waves, power that was responding to the tension that overtook him as he struggled to perceive fact from fiction.
It was enough to make him wonder just how powerful his godfather truly was.
"No," Sirius growled again. The parchment fell to the floor as he loosened his grip. "That isn't right. It can't be right. This is all an elaborate scheme, played by those fuckers to divert my attention away before the trial. Artemis Greengrass. I know that bastard. He's a shark, Harry. James never liked him, and neither should you!"
"Sirius!" Emma snapped, standing right beside him. "Stop being ridiculous and think for a moment. This is a letter from the office of a Lord. Nobody, and certainly not someone like Artemis Greengrass, would joke about it. Plus, all the genealogy mentioned can be verified from established sources." She turned towards Harry. "I imagine he's right about your grandmother being a Greengrass?"
He dumbly nodded. Truth be told, he had already been planning to meet this Daphne next year at Hogwarts and see where their conversation went. But as always, everything went sideways in the worst possible way. He really did have the worst luck.
Harry's jaws creaked as he clenched his teeth tightly together, not wanting to register the hollowness starting to pervade within him. He wanted answers. He wanted facts. He wanted to know his options, and curling into a ball like an infant or lashing out in anger weren't going to help matters any. Especially if—
He glanced at the crumpled letter.
Especially if the author of that letter was as much of a bastard as Sirius painted him out to be.
"What's— what's a maledictus?" he croaked out.
"It's a curse," Emma answered, her voice hauntingly soft. "A most diabolical curse that is cast not upon an individual, but an entire line. Unlike spells, they are cast through rituals— foul, dark magics. They were used in archaic times to destroy entire bloodlines, usually by families that entered into blood-feuds with one another."
Harry stilled at the word 'blood-feud' but said nothing.
"How does it work?" Even Sirius looked to be listening now.
"I'm not an expert, but…" Emma bit her lip. "I can dig up some old cases. I think the Shafiqs ended because of a bloodline curse. Corvinus Gaunt captured some of the youngest generation and cast the curse, before killing them with a sacrificial dagger." She paused. "It killed all the relatives of the victims. The Shafiq line ended overnight."
Harry stared at the floor. A curse applied to children to kill off an entire family? And this was magic? Something this foul, this horrible, this utterly wrong was… magic? The tempest building in his chest suddenly raged as he gathered up fury and pain like immaterial blades. Anger rose to his eyes, and everything around him began to change into grayscale—
He was shaking. Just like before. Had he lost control? Again? He could see the concern and— as much as he wanted to deny it —fear in Sirius's eyes. Deep down, he knew he was the cause. They, both his godfather and Emma, feared him. Whatever it was that was happening to him, it was dangerous. He was dangerous. He—
Harry closed his eyes. Rage, guilt, frustration, and helplessness rose to the brim, but he coldly suppressed all four. Powerful emotions, as the Patronus Charm had once taught him, were an excellent way to turbocharge one's magic. Throwing a destructive spell in a grip of fury would create more devastation than a relaxed mind. The danger, of course, was identifying how much was too much.
Pull yourself together, Potter.
"What does this all mean for me?" he finally asked, after a few calming breaths.
Emma mournfully shrugged. "I couldn't really tell you. Bloodline curses are ritualistic magic. They can have a variety of effects depending upon the nature of the curse, the degree of success, the strength of the caster…"
"But the Greengrasses are still alive," Harry pointed out. "So that means the curse didn't work properly. Right?"
"No. It did."
Harry and Emma both turned towards Sirius in surprise.
"Aunty Euphie was in her fifties when she conceived James," he spoke in a hollow voice. "Uncle Fleamont and my grandfather Arcturus were actually contemporaries, fairly close in age. I always thought that Aunty had conception issues of some kind."
"A reasonable inference," Emma briskly replied. "Witches find it more difficult to give birth than muggle women. As long as you don't count Molly Weasley," she muttered under her breath.
Sirius nodded. "Uncle Fleamont always described Aunty as a spitfire, but for as long as I knew her, she was this weak old thing. She wasn't sick, wasn't cursed. Just… frail."
"You think it was the Greengrass maledictus acting out?" Harry asked, his voice low.
"We can't discount the possibility," Emma shot Sirius a glance. "Though you both would need to talk to Artemis Greengrass to be sure. He says his wife passed away from the curse, so he should be able to give you a better perspective than our half-baked guesses."
"I am not taking Harry to a bloody Death Eater's house!"
"That's bullshit and you know it," Emma snapped. "The Greengrass family has maintained neutral dealings with everyone. They run businesses in the magical and muggle worlds equally."
"Neutral," Sirius repeated, as if he'd tasted something foul. "Is that what they're calling it these days?"
"They didn't take sides—"
"Washing your hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means you're siding with the powerful, not being neutral."
That shut her up.
Harry looked towards his godfather. Then he looked towards Emma.
And he came to a conclusion.
"He told me," Harry began, clearing his throat, "in that letter, that I was one of the two last Greengrasses alive. Me and… Daphne. I think I remember her from school. She's friends with Pansy Parkinson, and Parkinson is—"
"An uppity ugly-mug pureblood?" Sirius offered.
Harry bit back laughter. "Kinda."
Emma rolled her eyes.
"But more importantly, it means that we're second cousins. She's kind of like… family, then, isn't she?"
"When it comes to the wizarding world, Harry, everyone is related to everyone else. Second cousins, third cousins, it doesn't really matter," Sirius replied.
"You'd know," Emma muttered, making Harry wonder why she said that.
"If things ended up differently, I might've even grown up with Daphne and her father. But they aren't." Harry swallowed, looking Sirius dead in the eye. "When I saw the Greengrass name back during the inheritance test, I finally thought I found family, aside from you that is. Magical ones too, not like my aunt and uncle. I thought maybe we could talk. And I wondered… I wondered why they didn't approach me all these years, and this letter tells me one possible story."
"Harry," Sirius begged, "this man may as well be a Death Eater."
"And it is his daughter that's under a bloodline curse, not him."
That stopped Sirius short.
"Look, we need information," Harry continued, not letting up. "Information about the curse. And that's something Greengrass can give us. I… I think I'd like to meet this man face-to-face. At least once, to set the record straight."
Sirius's face looked like it was carved out of stone.
"But you're my godfather, Sirius. And you know a lot more about this sort of stuff than I do. So," he spread his arms, "what do you think I should do?"
Ripclaw stared in silent horror as the financial analyst— one Joseph McDonald —placed an alarming number of new folders on top of his desk. As someone who had managed the Black Vaults for the last forty-three years, he was used to a certain degree of paperwork, and nothing more. But ever since Sirius Black, the blasted wizard, had taken charge of House Black's affairs, things became far more hectic.
Sirius Black had challenged the Black Charter like the reckless buffoon he was. And then he came out on top, an act of worthiness— for that, Ripclaw begrudgingly respected him. To some extent. But the deed also invited mountains of paperwork he didn't think he'd deal with for at least another year. And with everything happening at the moment, he needed to get it all done in a very limited time period.
It was for this reason that seeing this new unexpected headache, sitting inconspicuously on top of his new pile of paperwork, had him frothing at the mouth.
The document was a geis, forged between House Black and House Greengrass. It was a contract that ordered—
"Marriage between Lord of House Black and Astoria Greengrass?" Ripclaw snarled, fangs bared as he glared at the financial analyst who was busy wetting his trousers, his right hand trembling as he tried— and failed —to grab at his wand.
"I said," he whispered, "what is this crap?"
"I— that is— this contract activated twenty-four hours ago," the analyst yelped like a frightened puppy. "After the Black Lordship lost its Dormant status."
"Do you know who I am, wizard?" Ripclaw growled. "I have been the Overseer for the Black Accounts for forty-three years, and I know for a fact Arcturus Black had never, and would never, set up a contract like—" he paused, his gaze flickering towards the scroll again. Without delay, he snatched it up and quickly began to peruse the contents of the scroll.
The contract was forged between Artemis Greengrass, Head of House Greengrass, and the House of Black, tying Astoria Greengrass, daughter of Artemis Greengrass né Pince and Margaret Carrow, with the Lord of House Black. Because such contracts could not be activated until there was a sitting Lord of House Black available, the placeholder for the Lord of Black was left empty. That, of course, did not stop the affected parties from going ahead with the stipulated conditions, with one of them being a sum of five hundred thousand galleons paid to House Malfoy by Artemis Greengrass on November 17, 1994. The bride price, as demanded by House Greengrass, would be—
Ripclaw's eyes widened like saucers, and his fingers twitched erratically.
He furiously checked through the rest of the scroll.
The bride price could not be paid without the consent of a sitting Lord of House Black, something that had been conveniently absent until a day ago. And now, the contract stood as follows—
Marriage Contract between Sirius Orion Black and Astoria Margaret Greengrass
Upon successful completion and consummation of marriage, which was due within six months of its activation, House Greengrass would need to be paid the bride price, which was ten years of unlimited access to the Black Library.
It was nearly enough for Ripclaw to pop a blood vessel. The Black Library was a priceless resource, one Arcturus Black had described as greater in value than all of the gold in the Black Vaults. In fact, it was strictly stated in the Black Charter that only a Black could be allowed access to its contents, pending further discretion of the sitting Lord.
He glanced at the bottom of the document.
Signed — Lucius Malfoy. Lord Regent of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.
Ripclaw lifted his head and glared at the analyst. "Let me see if I understand this clearly. Lucius Malfoy, Regent of House Black, signs a geis intending to marry his son Draco, the Heir Presumptive of House Black at the time, to Astoria Greengrass. In return for facilitating the marriage, Lucius Malfoy gets paid two hundred thousand galleons, and the bride price is quoted to be ten years of unlimited access to the Black Library. But Sirius Black is the new Lord, and Draco Malfoy's bloodline has been ousted from ever claiming the Black line."
He paused for breath and tilted his head forward, peering intently at the man. "Have I missed anything?"
McDonald swallowed. "No sir."
Ripclaw threw the contract back at him. "In that case, why are you wasting my time with this crap?"
"I— excuse me?"
"The contract was signed by the Regent, nor the Lord. Send a missive to Lucius Malfoy, demanding a draft of five hundred thousand galleons, payable by the next seven days as per Gringotts clauses. Set up additional charges for financial fraud should Malfoy not respond within the next three days. Serves him right for his foolhardiness and for wasting my time."
"Well sir," the wizard gulped, "that's kind of the issue."
McDonald slowly approached him, this time plucking out a different document from his robes— another geis scroll —and handed it to him.
Ripclaw unfurled it, and couldn't help but stare at it blankly.
"I need an emergency meeting with the Potter Account Manager," Ripclaw barked out, startling the man. "Call her. Call her NOW!"
Editor: Solo Starfish, the best goddamn starfish the world has ever seen.
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