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The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven by forsakenphoenix
Chapter 2 : Act II
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 41


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Scene I

It was still dark when Sirius was roused from his slumber by small hands shaking him roughly.

“Reg?” he mumbled, blinking rapidly to adjust to the lack of light. “It’s still too early. G’back to bed.”

He smacked his lips sleepily and rolled over, quite content to drift off again. But Regulus would have none of that and climbed into bed with him, shaking him again.

“Sirius, wake up,” he hissed and Sirius awoke with a start when he heard the roughness in Regulus’s voice, as if he’d been crying.

“What happened?” he asked frantically, grabbing Regulus’s shoulders and looking him over briefly. He didn’t notice any obvious wounds but by the light of the moon, he could see the tear tracks that trailed down Regulus’s round, childish cheeks. Regulus blinked and tears pooled in his eyes once more before he let loose a loud wail of despair.

“I heard them talking,” he explained through hiccupping sobs. His face flushed and his breath stuttered as he gasped for air.

“Talking about what?” Sirius prompted him, concerned at the level of hysterics his younger brother was reaching.

“They said Father was dead!” Regulus shrieked. Sirius had to cover Regulus’s mouth with his hand and shushed him, lest they wake their personal aides.

“What are you talking about?” Sirius demanded angrily once Regulus had quieted somewhat. “If this is your idea of a joke, it isn’t funny, Reg.”

Regulus smacked Sirius’s hands away and huffed. “I wouldn’t joke about this!” he sniffled, swiping the sleeve of his nightshirt across his face to dry his tears. “I heard Kreacher and Dumbledore talking outside my door. They said that Father wouldn’t wake up and they were calling for Madam Pomfrey.”

Sirius tried to swallow the lump in his throat but still felt the unfamiliar sting of tears. Regulus’s bottom lip began to tremble and Sirius let loose a shaky sigh, pulling Regulus down to rest beside him.

“We don’t know anything,” he said, trying to reassure Regulus. He was the oldest, the one who would be king; he could handle this, he told himself. “Maybe you didn’t hear them right. Father’s fine.”

The two brothers laid side-by-side for a few moments in silence. Sirius could feel his nightshirt dampening with Regulus’s tears but just patted his brother’s back awkwardly.

“Can we go check?” Regulus pleaded.

Sirius frowned, turning his head slightly to look out the window; the dark sky was beginning to lighten slightly but it was still considered too early for them to leave their rooms. “You know we’re not supposed to leave our rooms until daylight.”

“Sirius, please, I won’t be able to go back to sleep until we know that Father is okay.”

He sighed but sat up and pushed his duvet away. He climbed out of his bed and slid his feet into his slippers as Regulus clambered out of bed.

“Be quiet,” Sirius said as he pulled his door open, peering out into the dimly lit hallway; he saw no one and ushered Regulus out.

They crept along the corridor until they reached a set of wooden double doors. Turning the knob, Sirius yanked on the door hard, knowing the faster the door opened, the quieter it was. There was no one in sight when the boys snuck out of the castle wing where their bedrooms were located. It was unusual for the main corridor to be as empty as it was at this time of morning; Sirius knew that there was a constant bustle of staff running off to do errands or clean the castle. His stomach twisted uncomfortably at the stillness and he grabbed Regulus’s arm roughly, dragging him past the large winding staircase to the other side of the hall, opening another set of double doors. This was where the entire staff seemed to be gathered.

Sirius noticed Mrs. Weasley, the nanny who raised both him and his brother after their mother’s death, pacing anxiously. Her eyes met his and they widened in surprise. She tossed a glance towards their father’s door and then hurried over to greet them.

“You boys should be in bed,” she scolded, trying to steer them away from the gathering crowd outside their father’s bedroom.

“What’s wrong with Father?” Sirius demanded, trying to wiggle out of her grasp.

“Sirius, please,” Mrs. Weasley said, tightening her grip on his arm. “Madam Pomfrey is with your father right now. It’s best if you just wait in your rooms until someone comes to fetch you.”

“I want to see Father now!” Regulus cried, as he tugged hard and escaped from their nanny and rushed through the throng of staff.

“Regulus!” Sirius called after his brother.

Mrs. Weasley sighed and let him go. “Best go after him,” she said, brushing Sirius’s dark hair out of his eyes as she looked at him with motherly affection.

Sirius’s heart had begun to pound furiously in his chest as he walked through the parted crowd, avoiding their pitying stares and whispers. He heard Regulus cry out before he reached the door and ignoring all the rules that had been instilled in him since birth, he broke out into a run to reach his father’s bedroom in record time. He almost knocked into Regulus who had come to a stop just inside the door and he reached out to grab Regulus’s shoulders, steadying himself. The grip he had on his brother almost failed him when he turned his attention to his father’s bed and saw Madam Pomfrey working furiously with potions and spell work over the ashen figure that once was his father.

Their father’s two aides, Albus Dumbledore and Matthias Kreacher, were by the king’s beside. Dumbledore remained impassive, though Sirius could tell he was worried, while Kreacher was muttering under his breath and wringing his handkerchief fretfully.

“Madam Pomfrey?” Sirius asked quietly. He was afraid to disturb her concentration but his concern and curiosity outweighed any tongue-lashing she might release on him.

“Not now, boy,” she muttered angrily as she stirred the concoction boiling in her pot. There was a tiny puff and she looked at the light blue liquid with satisfaction when she ladled it into a shallow bowl. “Prop him up,” she ordered Kreacher, who immediately jumped to action.

The king was lifted into a sitting position and had to be supported by Kreacher or else he would flop back down onto the bed like a dead fish. Sirius cringed at the pallor of his father’s cheeks and deep down, he knew that whatever potion Madam Pomfrey had created would do nothing to save his father.

Dumbledore motioned the boys over and they dutifully crossed the room to stand beside their father’s most trusted aide.

“Is he dead?” Regulus asked tearfully, watching Madam Pomfrey pry the king’s mouth open wide enough to slip some liquid in.

Dumbledore put one hand on each boy’s shoulder but didn’t say a word. They watched with bated breath as they waited for the potion to work its magic. Seconds seemed to pass like hours to Sirius in the stifling silence of his father’s bedroom. There was no movement; no sound of gasping breath or twitching fingers from the unresponsive king and Madam Pomfrey shook her head sadly.

“I’m afraid he’s gone,” she said, turning to face the audience in the room. Sirius heard word spreading quickly through the crowd outside and women began to wail as the men’s voices began to rise above one another.

Sirius felt tears gathering in his eyes and when he squeezed his eyelids shut to block out the sight of his father’s dead body, they spilled over and raced down his cheeks to gather at his chin.

Regulus started screaming and Sirius cried harder, knowing how difficult it was for Regulus to grow up knowing his mother had died bringing him into the world. Now his father was dead as well. Sirius saw Madam Pomfrey wave her wand while muttering a spell and then Regulus quieted and began to sway. He caught his brother before he fell but he stumbled under Regulus’s weight.

Dumbledore picked Regulus up with ease, one arm under his knees and the other supporting his neck while his head lolled uncomfortably. “I’ve got him,” Dumbledore reassured Sirius. “You should say goodbye to your father while you have the chance.”

Sirius nodded and with shaky legs, he walked closer to the bed.

Dumbledore addressed the crowd that had begun to filter into the room and said, “Let the boy say goodbye in peace.”

Madam Pomfrey was the last to leave after the rest had trickled out slowly. She rubbed Sirius’s back and offered him a sincere smile. “Fetch me if you need something to get you to sleep tonight,” she offered. While Sirius was touched that the usually abrupt woman was being kind to him, he knew there would be no sleeping tonight.

When the door to his father’s bedroom finally closed with an ominous click, Sirius made the last few steps toward the bed. He touched the hand that rested closest to him but recoiled at the cool temperature of the skin.

“Father?” he whispered and then instantly felt foolish for he knew there would be no response.

He took a deep breath and reached out again, this time keeping his hand atop his father’s. He tried desperately to keep his composure, knowing that now his father had passed, he was next in line for the throne. But he was too young, too inexperienced; he was not expected to take the crown and throne until his seventeenth birthday.

He knew there were laws in place that dictated what should happen if the king died before then, but he didn’t know what they entailed. Sirius was at a loss and then he felt a surge of irrational anger towards his father for leaving him to take care of a kingdom and his brother; he was only eleven, after all. Feeling defeated, he nearly collapsed beside the bed, but instead he sat down on the edge of the mattress and sighed.

“I’m not ready yet,” he said fearfully. “Why did you have to die?”

There was a knock on the door and Sirius’s head snapped up in time to see Kreacher stick his head in.

“Master Sirius,” Kreacher addressed him, bowing his head slightly as he entered the room. He coughed uncomfortably. “I’m afraid that your time is nearly up. There uh…needs to be an investigation to determine the…the cause of your father’s de-” The handkerchief in his hand was twisted beyond recognition and he looked flushed. “I’m sorry. I can’t…” he squeaked.

“I understand.”

Sirius turned back towards the body and pressed his lips quickly to his father’s forehead. “I hope you see green hills and blue skies. Say hello to Mother,” he said sadly before rising and walking steadily, regally, across the bedroom floor.

He passed Alastor Moody, his father’s head of security, as he barged into the bedroom. “Don’t you worry, Master Sirius, I’ll find out what happened,” Moody said gruffly as he limped over to the king’s bed. He whipped out his wand and began uttering spells while Sirius watched, but Kreacher soon pulled him away and into the hall, closing the door behind them.

“You should head down to the kitchen. I think Ms. Winky will have some breakfast for you.”

Sirius agreed but he didn’t feel hungry, not after sitting with his father’s dead body. Still, he made his way down the main stairway and took a left, his feet automatically taking him towards the kitchen. Pushing through the swinging door, he inhaled the scent of sweet bread baking and he took comfort in the sounds of Ms. Winky, their cook, bustling around the kitchen preparing meals for the entire castle.

“Oh, Master!” she cried as she spotted him. “I just heard the awful news! How terrible! Here, drink this,” she exclaimed, putting a cup of something warm into his hands.

Sirius sniffed it and then took a big gulp, feeling the liquid warm his insides. Ms. Winky smiled tenderly and ushered him over to a small, round table. “Sit, I’ll get you some fresh bread and jam.”

“Thank you,” he murmured, for though he didn’t feel hungry, his stomach growled angrily at him, demanding to be fed.

“Where is your brother?” she asked as she slid a plate in front of him.

Sirius took a big bite out of his toast and swallowed before speaking. “Madam Pomfrey had to sedate him.”

“I’ll have some food sent up to him. Eat up!” she encouraged before flittering away, moving from pot to pot, adding spices and herbs, like a bee moves flower to flower, pollinating as it goes. Now that she was aware of the king’s death, Sirius knew she was busy working on the dinner feast. Whenever someone in the castle died, they celebrated their life with a fantastic feast. Sirius knew this feast would outshine the rest of the celebrations he had attended in his short life and while he was saddened by his father’s passing, he took a quiet comfort in the fact that his father was so well loved.

Sirius finished the rest of his bread quietly and snuck out of the kitchen through the backdoor, leaving Ms. Winky to do her job in peace. The backdoor out of the kitchen led into a small courtyard and Sirius curled up beneath the apple tree, embracing the quiet of the outdoors. Here, with only his despairing thoughts for company, Sirius fell asleep.

Scene II

Cygnus was busy with his lesson planning when he was interrupted. He plastered on a look of surprise when he saw his intruder.

“Matthias, what can I do for you on this beautiful morning?” he asked cheerfully, slipping a thin piece of parchment to mark his place in the tome he was reading.

“This morning is not so beautiful,” Kreacher admitted sadly. “I am so-sorry to have to inform you of the king’s untimely…” He paused and swallowed hard before continuing, “…The king’s untimely passing.”

Cygnus gasped and shot up from his chair. “Tell me it isn’t true!” he demanded, stalking over to the quivering aide. “What happened?”

Kreacher cowered under Cygnus’s piercing stare. “We…we don’t know! Alastor is investigating at the moment.”

“Find out what happened and inform me immediately. The princes, where are they? Have they been told?”

“Yes, sir. They were both present this morning.”

“Good. Very good,” Cygnus murmured. “Who is planning the funeral ceremony?”

“I…I’m not sure.”

“Do you know anything?” Cygnus snarled.

“I’m sorry, sir. I think – I think Albus might be in charge.”

Kreacher avoided looking into Cygnus’s eyes, content to stare at the bookshelves that lined the study.

Cygnus smirked at his submission. “Very well. You are dismissed. Send someone when they’ve finished with their investigation. We must know what happened to the king.”

“Of course, sir,” Kreacher said quickly, turning on his heel and hurrying out of the door.

“What an odd man,” Cygnus observed quietly. He sat back down in his chair and swung his legs to rest on the edge of his desk, planning the king’s elaborate funeral in his mind.

Scene III

Alastor Moody ruled the king had died of natural causes. He could find no evidence of a Killing Curse, no obvious wounds and he was convinced if the king had been poisoned, his spell work would have detected it.

“There is nothing suspicious about the king’s death,” he declared confidently.

Dumbledore stood beside him while he made the announcement, but the wise aide had trouble believing what Moody had determined as the king’s cause of death. But he had no proof to contradict the security expert’s decision. His gaze fell upon the princes who sat side by side, hands tightly grasped as Moody talked about the king’s death with sadness, though his tone revealed a certain fondness for their beloved king. Moody finished speaking and then turned the platform over to Dumbledore.

“Tonight,” Dumbledore began, “we mourn the loss of our great king. We feel much sadness but tonight we should also celebrate the life of the man who helped us become as prosperous as we have, who ruled us with a gentle but firm hand and was never unkind or unfair. He was our king, but he was also a father, and we should celebrate the lives of our two princes, who are the very best of us all.”

“Hear, hear!” the crowd cried, and Dumbledore offered the two young princes a brief smile, before he turned and headed towards his room, preparing himself for a long night.

Scene IV

Sirius collapsed in his bed later that night, his stomach full of Ms. Winky’s excellent food and his heart even fuller. He never knew the impact his father had on the lives of his staff, but he was proud to follow in his footsteps. He listened contentedly to the stories and kind words that did nothing but praise a king, who did his best to rule a kingdom and raise a family despite his broken heart.

All the food he ate made him feel drowsy and he fell asleep quickly, despite his thoughts earlier this morning that sleep would not come easily.

Sirius wasn’t sure how much time had passed when he bolted awake, breathing heavily. He looked around his room but couldn’t see anything that would have awoken him. The air in his room felt stale and Sirius clambered out of his bed to throw open a window. He gulped the fresh air greedily, resting his overheated skin against the cool stones that lined his window. The forest outside seemed unusually quiet and Sirius felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck. Before he could turn around, suddenly aware of a presence behind him, he heard someone mutter, “Petrificus Totalus!”

Sirius felt his muscles lock and he wished he could have winced as his body toppled to the floor. He began to panic, willing the muscles in his lips to move so he could scream out for help but his body wouldn’t respond to the commands of his racing mind. He felt hands grab him roughly and pull him to his feet.

“We need to make it look like he ran away,” he heard a voice say.

“What would ‘e bring if ‘e was runnin’ away?” another voice replied.

The first man sighed in exasperation. “Just grab a bag and throw some clothes in it or something. Let’s go!”

Sirius was momentarily blinded when his room was suddenly illuminated with light.

“What are you doing?” the first voice hissed. “Put it out!”

“I can’t see anythin’!” the second voice complained.

“Just grab some damn clothes and be done with it. We’re already running behind.”

Sirius heard some rustling and one of the men cursed as he stubbed his toe on a side table.

“I’m ready,” Sirius heard, and then he was lifted in someone’s arms. He heard the swish of silky fabric and felt something smooth and heavy settle over him like a blanket as he was carried from his room. The hall outside his room was darkened and Sirius panicked even more, convinced that no one would notice these men stealing him away in the middle of the night.

“This way!” the man holding him said quietly, moving them down a hallway that was rarely used. They followed the hall until they stopped in front of a rickety, wooden staircase. “Follow behind me,” he said to the other man.

Sirius felt his heart pounding uncomfortably in his throat, afraid the man would drop him and he would fall to his death. His concern continued to grow, even when they had safely made it to the bottom and outside the castle, when he realized they were heading for the forest.

He heard the crunch of leaves beneath the men’s heavy footsteps and listened to each step as a way to measure time. After six hundred feet, he lost count. The men eventually stopped in a clearing and whatever had been covering him was pulled off and he was dropped to the ground. By the moonlight filtering in through the breaks in the treetops, Sirius could see the two men who had kidnapped him. Both men were tall and dark-haired. The one who had carried him grinned menacingly at him and Sirius could see his yellow, crooked teeth. The other man had a long scar running down his face.

“Can we kill ‘im yet?” Scarface asked, pulling his wand from his back pocket, pointing it at Sirius’s chest. Sirius felt fear creep up his spine; if he wasn’t paralyzed, he would probably be quivering.

Crooked-Teeth smacked his companion on the back of the head. “Not yet.” He turned to face Sirius again. “The kingdom will think you ran away, so grief-stricken after your father’s death. You ran into the woods, only to meet a wild animal who attacked you so savagely your body will be barely recognizable. That will be fun,” he said, baring his teeth at Sirius.

“Can we Crucio ‘im instead?” Scarface asked Crooked-Teeth. “Can we release ‘im from the Bind and ‘ear ‘im squeal like a li’l pig?”

Crooked-Teeth laughed. “I do love that sound,” he admitted. “Finite Incantatem!”

Sirius felt his limbs go flaccid and he moved his fingers experimentally, only to clench them tightly into fists when he felt the effects of the first Crucio. He let loose a shrill shriek and writhed uncomfortably on the ground, feeling like a thousand hot knives were piercing his skin.

“How did you enjoy that, little prince?” Crook-Teeth taunted. “Oh, look, he’s crying! Can you imagine our future king being such a baby?”

“Me next!” Scarface exclaimed gleefully.

Sirius squeezed his eyes tightly closed and braced himself for the pain. Only it didn’t come. Instead he heard the cry of, “Expelliarmus!” His eyes flew open and he saw Crooked-Teeth shooting a green spell into the woods. There was a cackle of laughter and another flash of red came streaking towards them. Crooked-Teeth cursed.

“Find them!” he yelled to Scarface, and then he turned towards Sirius. “I’ll finish him off.”

Avada Kedavra!” Crooked-Teeth spat out, his wand pointed at Sirius. Sirius quickly rolled to his side, avoiding the spell as it kicked up dirt and rock when it hit the ground instead, and attempted to scramble to his feet.

He heard Crooked-Teeth say, “Incarcerous,” and suddenly he was falling again. This time he was able to catch himself with his hands and he rolled again to avoid another spell. Another flash of red came streaking out from the trees surrounding them and this time it didn’t miss. Crooked-Teeth’s wand went flying from his hand and he cried out in anger.

“Let’s just go,” Scarface said, his eyes darting every which way, attempting to find out where they were being attacked from.

“They have my wand!” Crooked-teeth growled. He glared at Sirius. “You best watch your back, boy. I may not be able to kill you now but mark my word, if you ever set foot in that castle again, I will make you wish you had died tonight just like your father. If you even survive the night.”

Sirius gulped and then flinched when Scarface made to move towards him. Scarface laughed and kicked dirt in his face.

“Long live the king!” Crooked-Teeth sneered, turning on his heel and walking briskly out of the clearing, Scarface trailing behind him, arguing back and forth the entire time.

Sirius’s hands shook. While the men who had kidnapped him were now disarmed and on their way back to the castle, Sirius still had no idea who stole their wands or what they were after. For all he knew, they could be deranged murderers. He had heard tales from Mrs. Weasley when he was younger about the riff-raff that called these woods their home. He shivered, suddenly aware of the chill in the air. Every noise made him jump until he heard a branch snap directly behind him and he almost pissed himself. Realizing his feet were still tied, he tumbled to the ground when he tried to get up, scraping his face up against some rocks.

“Who’s there? Show yourself,” he demanded in a shaky voice.

He heard more branches crack and then suddenly three figures emerged from the shadow of the trees. Sirius curled himself into a ball as best as he could and looked at the figures warily until they were standing directly in a beam of moonlight. To his surprise, he noticed they were boys, not much older than himself.

The middle figure grinned at him, all wide-eyed and dimple-cheeked, and said, “Hey there, I’m James!”

Author's Note: ...yeah, I left it there, sorry! Now you all have to come back for the next chapter to meet the rest of the boys. ;) Thanks again to Naida and TenthWeasleyWriter for beta-ing!


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