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The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven by forsakenphoenix
Chapter 1 : Act I
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 55

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Author's Note: Thanks to Violet Gryfindor for the beautiful banner and for helping me solidfy my original ideas into this epic AU - she's the one who suggested the potion idea you'll see towards the end. TenthWeasleyWriter, NaidatheRavenclaw, and HJ Weasley are my fabulous betas.

Title, summary quote, and general inspiration is credited to William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Bear in mind, that aside from some similarities to the play, the plot will be my own.

Scene I

Cygnus Black was a patient man. He figured he had to be with three young children under his tutelage. But as he sat at his desk, aged by years of teaching the children of the castle, and watched his pupils working diligently on their essays, he wished for the hours of the day to pass by him quickly. He had plans tonight that kept his mind preoccupied.

“Uncle?” A voice broke him out of his reverie.

His eyes snapped to his oldest nephew, Sirius, who had his hand raised and his lower lip caught between his teeth, a look of perplexity on his face.

He sighed. “Yes, Sirius?”

“I was just wondering why we don’t allow goblins to have wands. If goblins were allowed wands, I think they wouldn’t hate wizards as much and we wouldn’t have so many uprisings.”

Cygnus scoffed and looked upon his nephew with such disdain that Sirius shrunk back in his seat. This is precisely why Sirius will never make a strong king, Cygnus thought.

“Narcissa, my dear, would you like to explain to your cousin why it is we do not allow goblins the right to carry wands?”

Narcissa, or Cissy as she liked to be called, was his youngest daughter. At fifteen, she was only four years older than Sirius, but she already acted like she knew everything there was to know. He smiled proudly as she sat up straight in her seat and folded her hands carefully atop her desk.

“Everyone knows that goblins can do magic without wands anyway. But as wizards and witches, we rule this kingdom so we should not give more power to those creatures that are below us.”

“Excellent answer, Cissy,” Cygnus praised his daughter. She beamed at him and shot Sirius a self-satisfied smirk, flinging her long blonde hair over her should before turning her attention back to her essay.

Sirius frowned. “That’s not fair!” he proclaimed. “Everyone should have the same rights.”

“Do not speak of things you do not understand!” Cygnus shouted, slamming his hand down on his desk. The children jumped but said nothing. “Wands are not allowed in the possession of any non-wizard or witch. It has been that way for over three hundred years and will continue to be that way. End of discussion.”

“That will change when I’m king,” Sirius muttered indignantly.

“Shut up, Sirius,” Regulus hissed, shooting glances between his older brother and his uncle.

“If you allow that, there will be no kingdom for you to rule over, Sirius,” his uncle argued. “Get back to work.”

Sirius grumbled under his breath but picked up his quill again and continued writing. Cygnus watched him carefully, aware of the discontent brewing in the young child’s mind, and knowing in his heart that what he was to do was for the best.

Sirius was too independent, quite unlike his younger brother who was always eager to please, and in Cygnus’s mind that was not the trait they wanted to encourage in their future king. That was something he would remedy tonight.

When the children had finished their essays, Cygnus stopped his nephews on their way out of his classroom. “Visit with your father tonight,” he urged them. “He’s been feeling ill as of late.”

The boys nodded, knowing their father, King Orion, had been locked away in his private quarters for the last few days. Regulus’s tenth birthday was fast approaching and with the celebration of another year added onto the young prince’s age also came mourning for his mother, Walburga, who died in childbirth.

Sirius paused once more before crossing the threshold. “Do you think Father will ever be happy again?” he asked his uncle.

Cygnus leaned back in his chair and leveled his gaze on Sirius before replying, “I think your father will only be happy when he is reunited with your mother again.”

Sirius looked down, shuffling his feet anxiously and nodded once, quickly, before shoving his fists into his pocket and rushing out of the room.

Cygnus felt his lips stretching slowly into a smile as he thought of his late sister and her husband; all Cygnus wanted to do was make Orion happy again.

Scene II

Sirius sat beside his father’s bed, an unread textbook open on his lap. He wasn’t quite tall enough so his feet scuffed the floor when he swung his legs back and forth as he waited impatiently for his father to stir from his nap. Sirius loved sitting in his father’s room, especially at this time of day when the natural sunlight filtered in through his gold curtains, bathing the light in a warm orange glow.

“Princes don’t drag their feet,” his father slurred sleepily, his eyes blinking against the bright sun.

Sirius’s legs halted and he sat silently until he was addressed again. His father slowly sat up and rested himself against the intricate designs etched into the headboard. “What do you want, Sirius?” his father asked wearily.

Sirius paused for a moment, noticing the grey hairs on his father’s head, a sharp contrast to the young, handsome man he once was. “Is my mother in heaven?” he wondered, fingers moving idly across the smooth page of text before him.

“You know she is,” his father sighed.

Sirius cocked his head and stared thoughtfully at his father. “What do you think it’s like?”

His father smiled contentedly, reminding Sirius of the sporadic glimpses of a caring father he had had over the past decade – the one who grinned and laughed with his sons and didn’t bury his grief beneath legal parchments and the heavy weight of the crown upon his head.

“I imagine it’s beautiful; rolling green hills, skies as blue as your mother’s eyes, nothing but golden sunshine and clear night skies as we take our place amongst the stars.”

“Why can’t we all just live in heaven then?” Sirius demanded.

“You must live your life first, my dear boy. There is no happiness if you have not felt sadness, no triumph if you have never failed. You are still young – you have decades at your fingertips. Don’t wish for your life to be over; it has barely even begun.”

“What about you?” Sirius quietly asked.

His father frowned and lifted his hand from the mattress, waving Sirius over. He said, “Come here.”

Sirius hopped down from the chair, placing the textbook carefully on his seat and made his way over to his father’s bedside, making sure to pick his feet up off the ground with each step. He was a prince; he would not drag his feet.

His father placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I have lived for many years, my son.” His fingers tightened infinitesimally in a gentle squeeze before trailing down his son’s arm and clasping Sirius’s own smaller hand in his. “But I still have many years before me. Do not worry.”

Sirius smiled down at his father. Giving his hand one last squeeze, his father released him. “Now go on and play with your brother before dinner.”

“Will you be down for dinner?” Sirius inquired.

“Not tonight,” was the carefully measured reply.

Sirius nodded before turning and carefully watched the way his feet moved as he walked. He was halfway to the door when his father called him back. “Yes, Father?”

His father’s head jerked towards the chair and Sirius felt heat burn his cheeks. He grinned sheepishly as he made his way back across the room and scooped the book up.

“Sorry. Goodnight.”

“Goodbye, Sirius,” his father replied.

Sirius turned to wave and he watched his father’s fond smile disappear as the door clicked closed. Tucking the book in his armpit, Sirius ran off to find Regulus, wondering idly if his brother would be up for a game of Exploding Snap before dinner.

Scene III

Cygnus laughed quietly to himself, wondering where his well-practiced patience was, while he paced anxiously in his study. In his hand he clasped a vial filled with clear liquid, his fingers wrapped around it tightly as if it were his last tethers to this world. The firelight cast dancing shadows along his wall, but aside from the crackling of the flames, Cygnus heard nothing but silence. In the darkness, there was a quiet urgency that whispered wicked words into his ear.

The illusion of silence and safety was shattered when the door to his study opened with a loud, piercing screech followed by a low groan.

“Quietly,” Cygnus growled, ushering the two men into his room, their long, black robes billowing behind them. Both men were tall and dark-haired with pale skin and Cygnus had to squint into the shadows to distinguish them. “Dolohov, Carrow,” he addressed them. “You know what you must do, then?”

Dolohov grinned, baring his yellow-stained teeth and Cygnus recoiled slightly from the smell emanating from his mouth. “We take the boy out into the woods and kill him.” He pulled his wand from the inner pocket of his robes and stroked it lovingly.

“Why can’t we just kill ‘im in ‘is sleep?” Carrow asked impatiently. “Nothin’ but a waste of time, that is.”

“You must make it look like it was an accident,” Cygnus replied, slightly exasperated. “We need the kingdom to believe that Sirius, stricken with grief after receiving news of his father’s death, ran away and was then killed by a wild animal.”

“Can we gut ‘im to make it look bloody?”

Cygnus frowned and looked thoughtful. “Do what you need to. You can’t just Avada Kedavra him and have the kingdom believe he was attacked.”

“We’ll get the job done, Master,” Dolohov reassured him. “When do you want us to take the boy?”

“The king’s aides will surely rouse his sons once his death has been realized. Sirius must know that his father is dead if we are to get away with anything. You might have to wait until tomorrow night.”

Carrow opened his mouth to protest but Dolohov elbowed him sharply in the gut.

“What the fu-“ Carrow stopped mid-sentence as Cygnus silenced him with a glare.

“Very well, Master,” Dolohov said, bowing his head once more and dragging Carrow behind him.

Cygnus slumped into a chair beside the fireplace, rubbing his face with the palm of his hand. The vial rested enclosed in the fist of his other hand and he unclenched his fingers to look at the transparent liquid inside of it. He watched it slosh slightly against the glass as he observed it by the light of the fire.

Funny, Cygnus mused, how something so deadly can look so unassuming.

Standing, he made his way towards the window in his study that overlooked the forest. The night was pitch black but looking up, Cygnus could see Orion’s constellation burning brightly.

“Soon, my brother, you will join our forefathers,” he murmured as he dropped the vial into the pocket of his robes.

He tossed the hood of his robes up over his head and glided quickly and quietly out of his study, the sound of his footsteps muffled by the plush green carpet that lined the hall. At this time of night, the lights had been dimmed so Cygnus crept beside the wall, hidden in the shadows as he maneuvered himself through the maze-like corridors of the castle.

He paused outside the alder wood door and listened for movement inside. When he heard none, he turned the knob and quietly slipped into the room. The curtains that had been pulled back during the day to let in the natural sunlight now lay stiff and motionless, blocking any light from entering the spacious room.

Cygnus was used to darkness; he spent his entire life keeping secrets and malevolent thoughts hidden beneath the cover of night. His eyes adjusted quickly and he carefully made his way across the room to the bed. He looked down at King Orion, his second cousin and brother-in-law, who was curled up on his side, arm thrown out across the mattress as if searching for a warm body to hold. Cygnus admired how even in sleep Orion appeared tormented; he bore the brunt of his grief in the wrinkles that lined his face and the white that speckled his hair. Even his dreams seemed more like nightmares.

Cygnus’s fingers closed around the vial in his pocket and he pulled it out, popping the top off with a flick of his thumb. His hand remained steady as he shuffled closer to the bed and held the open vial over his brother-in-law’s sleeping head.

He watched in fascination as the clear liquid dribbled over the lip of the glass and the drops slid one by one into Orion’s ear. All it took was three drops before Cygnus heard Orion’s breath begin to stutter. A few seconds later he heard nothing but silence. He corked the vial and placed it safely in his pocket before pulling the sleeve of his robe out of the way and resting his fingers on Orion’s neck. His fingertips searched for a pulse, for a sign that life still ran through flowing blood beneath pallid skin; he felt nothing.

“Sleep in peace, King Orion,” Cygnus said in a slightly mocking manner.

Fully satisfied the poison had done its job, he left the room just as quietly as he had entered and made his way back to his study. In only a few short hours, King Orion’s aides would find him pale and unresponsive and call for a physician. As he finally settled into bed for the night, Cygnus smirked because he knew they would find nothing to implicate him in the death of the king; there was no evidence that would suggest King Orion died by any other means than his own broken, grief-stricken body failing him. Cygnus fell asleep easily that night, dreaming of a crown upon his head and his brother’s kingdom in the palm of his hand.

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