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The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven by forsakenphoenix
Chapter 3 : Act III
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 30

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Author's Note: Once again, many thanks to NaidatheRavenclaw and TenthWeasley for all their fantastic pre-reading/beta work. To spare you from any confusion, please take note that the beginning of this chapter takes place PRIOR to Sirius's disappearance.

Scene I

Cygnus took a sip of pumpkin juice as his eyes roamed the packed ballroom. Though he decided to remain sober to ensure his plans were carried out that night, he briefly wished he could drink something a little stronger. Many people were laughing and joking, sharing fond memories of the king and Cygnus was disgusted by their blatant disrespect for his brother. When he died, he would ensure it was a somber affair. With death came pain and grieving, not this frivolous party where people ate too much and drank even more.

The lip of the goblet rested on his lips, hiding his smirk, when his eyes finally landed upon his oldest nephew. Sirius was surrounded by some of the men in Moody’s security team and they all appeared to be intoxicated, laughing raucously.

“Foolish boy,” he muttered as he watched Sirius’s pale cheeks flush and a delighted laugh escape his mouth.

He found Regulus next, sitting next to Kreacher with an agonized look on his face. Placing the goblet on the tray of a passing servant, Cygnus stalked through the ballroom, slithering easily through the throng.

“Regulus!” He stood before the young boy and placed his hands gently on his nephew’s shoulders. “Is this celebration not to your liking?”

Regulus frowned and glanced quickly at Kreacher, who appeared uninterested in their conversation, before turning back to his uncle. “It feels wrong,” he whispered. “Why should we celebrate Father’s death with laughter? We haven’t even buried his body yet.”

“I completely agree,” Cygnus responded. He glanced around the ballroom once more, unable to keep the sneer off his face. “This is one tradition I will abolish when I become interim king.”

He raised his eyebrow when he turned back to his nephew and was faced with Kreacher’s horrified face. “Is there a problem, Matthias?”

“Of course not, sir,” Kreacher replied quickly, casting his eyes downward.

“Of course not,” Cygnus muttered darkly, his eyes searching Kreacher’s face for any signs of dissatisfaction.

“So you will be king then?” Regulus asked.

“Until you come of age, my dear nephew, I shall act as king in your father’s stead.”

“You mean until Sirius comes of age,” Regulus stated, staring at his uncle in confusion.

Internally, Cygnus winced at his slip-up and berated himself for being so foolish. “Yes, of course,” he replied easily. “I was speaking with you, so my mind merely jumped to the wrong conclusion.”

Regulus accepted the lie easily, nodding absently as he gazed around the full ballroom. Turning to look at Kreacher, he said, “I think I want to sit with my brother awhile.”

“Very well, Master Regulus,” Kreacher said, rising to his feet.

Cygnus grabbed Kreacher’s arm before he could follow Regulus, his fingers tightening around the man’s frail arm. “A moment, Matthias.”

Kreacher visibly paled under Cygnus’s scrutiny but his face remained impassive. “Sir?”

“It has been a long day for my young nephew. Ensure he gets a good night’s sleep,” Cygnus said after a lengthy pause. “Madam Pomfrey will have something for him.”

Kreacher inclined his head slightly. “Of course, sir,” he replied. “Master Sirius as well?”

Cygnus’s grip tightened infinitesimally and his gaze turned from Kreacher towards Sirius, who had his arm thrown around his brother’s shoulders while he laughed with those around him. “No,” he replied softly, slowly releasing his hold on Kreacher’s arm. “I’ll see to it that Sirius is resting peacefully.”

“Very well, sir,” Kreacher said, stepping away from Cyngus and quickly getting lost in the crowd.

Reaching out without a second look, Cygnus snagged a small tumbler from the tray of a passing servant and downed the amber liquid in one gulp.

“And so it begins.”

Scene II

Kreacher’s strides were quick and even as he followed the multitude of twists and turns of the castle, leading away from the ballroom and towards the lower level infirmary. He had sent Kingsley Shacklebolt, one of the king’s many guards, to accompany the young prince to his room. Now that the king was dead, Kreacher felt an obligation to the princes and he knew his loyalty would remain with them rather than Cygnus Black, despite his contract as an aide to the king. Kreacher grimaced slightly when he thought of the name, feeling the deep ache in his upper arm where Cygnus’s fingers dug into his tender flesh. The king would have never touched anyone in this castle that way, and the thought of this man on the throne in the king’s place left a bitter taste in Kreacher’s mouth.

He almost walked past the infirmary door, too caught up in his thoughts of the king’s brother, but he caught himself last minute and found himself by the black painted door. With his knuckle, he rapped on the door three times and waited for Madam Pomfrey to allow his entrance into her infirmary.

Upon opening the door, Kreacher was taken aback by how tired the healer looked. “Madam Pomfrey,” he greeted her genially.

“I sincerely hope you are not here to tell me someone else is dead, Matthias,” the Healer snapped.

“No, madam. I was instructed to retrieve something for Prince Regulus to help him sleep tonight.”

Madam Pomfrey nodded and opened the door wider, motioning for Kreacher to follow her inside. “I was expecting that,” she replied, showing Kreacher into the large circular room off to the side of the main hospital wing. There was a table of bubbling cauldrons, each with a set of vials beside it waiting to be filled with whatever concoction the woman was brewing.

She walked to the far side of the room and stood over the cauldron, wafting some of the billowing smoke towards her face. “Perfect,” she muttered. “You’re just in time.” She ladled some blue liquid into a vial. She corked one more vial and handed them off to Kreacher before backing him out of the room.

Kreacher looked at her in confusion. “The second vial, Madam Pomfrey?”

She paused in her efforts to shoo him out. “For Master Sirius. I presume you require one for him as well.”

“Master Cygnus,” Kreacher started, stopping to swallow the bile that rose in his throat, “said he would take care of Master Sirius tonight. Has he not been down to collect some sleeping draught?”

“If he had, why would I have handed you two vials?” she snapped in response. “What Master Cygnus does on his time is of no concern to me.”

“It will be when he becomes king,” Kreacher said.

Madam Pomfrey pursed her lips but refused to speak on the matter. “It is late,” she said instead. “Get those potions to the princes and make sure they rest well tonight. There is much to do tomorrow in preparation of the king’s funeral.”

“Of course, madam. Thank you.”

The infirmary door closed behind him with a loud bang and Kreacher knew he must get back to Prince Regulus as soon as possible. When he finally opened the door to the young prince’s quarters, he found the boy sitting up by his pillows, legs tucked under his chin.

“Master Regulus,” Kreacher said, pulling one of the vials from an inner pocket of his robes as he slowly made his way across the room. “I have something that will help you sleep.”

“I don’t want it,” Regulus replied petulantly. His bottom lip trembled and he sniffled slightly. “I want Sirius.”

“Your brother is going to take some potion and sleep peacefully in his own room tonight,” Kreacher said, pinching the inside of his wrist as penance for lying to the young prince. “Please drink it, Master Regulus.”

“I’ll have nightmares of Father’s dead face.”

“No, no,” Kreacher said, quick to placate him. “This will put you into a dreamless sleep.”

Regulus looked at Kreacher with wide eyes, the grey of his irises looking more like dull metal in the candlelight that lit his room, and Kreacher closed his own eyes briefly, trying to fight the onslaught of memories of an older man who had oftentimes looked at him that way.

“Do you promise?”

Brown eyes met grey, and for a split moment, Kreacher was back in the king’s bedroom, making different promises. There was no hesitation in his declaration, not then and not now. “I promise.”

He held the vial over Regulus’s bed and waited for him to take it on his own. Regulus stared at it for a few moments, and the only sound in the room was the uneven tempo of their breathing. With a shaking hand, Regulus grasped the vial and uncorked it with his thumb. He drank the liquid contents in one gulp and wiped the back of his arm across his mouth before handing the vial back to Kreacher.

The aide helped Regulus settle down into his bed and he drew the duvet up to the boy’s neck. “Sleep well, Master Regulus,” Kreacher said, with a hint of fondness in the tone of his voice.

Regulus yawned widely but he was too tired to care about formalities. “I thought that’s what the potion was for,” he murmured quietly, before his eyes slid shut and he drifted off to sleep.

Kreacher waited a few moments, listening to Regulus’s deep and steady breathing ; a sign of life that Kreacher desperately tried to hold onto. He sighed heavily – there was no mourning right now, not while he was still on the job. Hidden in the dark shadows of night, there would come a time for tears and regrets but it was not now. He rolled the second vial around in his hand, contemplating bringing it to Master Sirius. He knew that Cygnus told him to leave the oldest prince to him, but deep down, Kreacher wanted to make sure that Sirius was okay, that he was handling the king’s death better than his brother. Making up his mind, Kreacher slipped out of Regulus’s room and hurried down the hall to Sirius’s room, keeping an eye out for Cygnus along the way. He opened the door and peered inside, only to step back in surprise when he was met with nothing but darkness.

“He must already be asleep then,” Kreacher mumbled to himself, and he slipped the vial back into his robes, wondering briefly how much trouble he would be in if he took the potion for himself.

Scene III

For the second night in a row, Cygnus found himself pacing his study. Soon, he feared, the rug would wear thin and his impatience would be revealed to anyone who happened to notice the circle he walked constantly around the room.

He was not a nervous man by nature; he exuded confidence and arrogance like a Black should, and he knew that no one would dare question him once he was made king. But now, it was all he could do not to collapse into his chair by the fire and anxiously pick at his robes. His entire plan relied on this night to go well, and Cygnus hated leaving important jobs to others.

He paused in his pacing in front of the window that overlooked the forest and watched the tree line for any sign of movement. It seemed like a lifetime until, by the light of the moon, Cygnus saw two figures emerge from the forest. He heaved a sigh of relief and sat down in his chair, allowing himself another drink of whiskey while he waited for the men to meet him in his study.

Time was nothing more than a thief of life and Cygnus bemoaned how slowly it seemed to pass in moments of great urgency.

“Finally,” he sighed, standing quickly when he heard the sharp knock at his door. He yanked the door open and ushered the two men inside. “So?”

Dolohov and Carrow shared a look that made the blood in Cygnus’s veins run cold. “What happened?” he hissed, grabbing Dolohov’s robe collar and pulling the man closer to him. “Did you kill the boy or not?”

Dolohov looked terrified but still, he knew better than to lie to Cygnus so he shook his head.

Cygnus exploded and pushed Dolohov away roughly, whipping out his wand. “Why the hell not?”

“You don’t understand, Master,” Carrow said, his hands lifted in the universally accepted sign of peace. “There were others in the woods. They disarmed us, we couldn’t…there was nothin’ we could do.”

“You have hands, don’t you? Why didn’t you bring a knife or something else to get the job done? Don’t you two share an ounce of brain between you? You have ruined everything!” Cygnus was yelling by the time he finished talking.

“We’re sorry, Master,” Dolohov was sputtering. “We didn’t think…”

“Of course you didn’t think,” Cygnus spat. “When do you ever think, you imbeciles?”

“I threatened him, at least,” Dolohov explained, trying to pacify their irate master. “He won’t be coming back to the castle unless he wants to die. The nights are cold and if the men in the woods that disarmed us came after him, he may not survive anyway.”

“Oh really?” Cygnus lowered his wand and looked at his two servants, the first men that joined the army he had been assembling in secret. “There may be hope for you yet, then,” he said, his voice steady but deadly. “But you will not fail me again.”

Scene IV

Regulus cried out in surprise when he was jolted from sleep by his door slamming open.

“Oh, Master Regulus, thank God you are here,” Moody exclaimed. He stopped briefly to examine the slight damage to the door he caused but shrugged it off and rushed to Regulus’s bedside.

“Have you seen your brother?”

Regulus blinked at the intimidating man in confusion, hesitantly raising his hand to wipe the sleep from his eyes. “Sirius? Is he not asleep?”

Moody opened his mouth to respond but then closed it quickly, glancing back towards the door. Regulus had not noticed earlier but now he saw Kreacher hovering in the doorway. He looked back and forth between the two men. “Where is my brother?” he demanded, shoving his duvet away from him and swinging his legs over the side of the bed.

“Master Regulus,” Kreacher started, wringing his hands nervously, and Regulus felt his heart stop momentarily as he remembered the twisted handkerchief in Kreacher’s hands yesterday after his father’s death. “Did your brother…did he say anything to you last night about running away?”

Regulus’s heart sputtered back to its normal rhythm, but he still felt uncomfortable, like his stomach was trying to claw its way out of his mouth, and he wasn’t sure if he would ever feel normal again. “Run away? Why would Sirius run away? Why would he leave me alone to deal with this?” Regulus screeched and Kreacher was quick to kneel down before the boy and try to quiet him while Moody looked on helplessly.

“We don’t know what has happened,” Kreacher said. “There was a note, left on his bedside, and some of his clothing is gone.”

“Let me see the note,” Regulus said, holding out his hand, palm up.

“Regulus.” Moody’s tone was low and full of caution.

“I’m the prince and you must do as I say,” Regulus declared. “Give me the note.”

Moody took a piece of folded parchment from his robe pocket and handed it over to Regulus. He watched as Regulus carefully unfolded the note and read the words. Moody had the note memorized, could recite every word Sirius had written that begged for forgiveness and spoke of a firm conviction that he was no more than a broken boy incapable of becoming a king.

Regulus’s face crumpled just like the parchment that was now balled up in his tiny fist. “It’s not true,” he said. He was so convinced of this that the two men that stood there with him almost believed him too.

Regulus felt betrayed and angry that his brother would leave him to deal with their father’s death alone. Not only that, but now the future of their kingdom rested in his hands. He could not rule a kingdom. Being the first born, Sirius had been groomed since birth to take the throne once he was of age. Regulus was only raised knowing that he would always be second in line. He knew little about diplomacy and laws, only what his uncle had told him offhandedly during their lessons. Regulus felt like he was going to vomit.

“I can’t do this,” he muttered, blinking back tears.

How many times would he have to cry until the tears stopped coming? Suddenly angry at his own weakness and his brother’s betrayal, Regulus tore a painting from his wall and threw it at the ground, releasing a loud yell as he did so. The subjects of the paintings rushed from the portrait into the adjacent frame and were now chastising him for his behavior but Regulus didn’t care. He felt torn between feeling relieved and even angrier, itching to destroy something else.

“Master Regulus, please,” Kreacher pleaded with him. “We need your help in finding your brother. We need you to be rational.”

Kreacher sighed heavily, not wanting to see his young charge this upset. They needed a prince now, though, not a young boy with a head full of anger.

“Where would your brother go if he was upset?” Moody asked.

Regulus felt drained now that the anger had slowly ebbed away, leaving him feeling nothing but helpless. He shrugged. “I don’t know. He usually hides in the gardens when he wants time to think.”

Moody’s team had checked the gardens once they found Sirius missing and the note on his bedside. “If your brother was serious about running away he wouldn’t hide in the garden. I need you to think, Master Regulus. Did he mention any friends in the kingdom or any places he wanted to visit outside of the castle?”

“I’ve told you all I know!” Regulus shouted, irritated with their questioning. “I want my brother back as much as you do. I need him. If I knew anything...”

“Right, of course. My apologies, Master Regulus.”

Regulus waved his apologies off. “I understand you’re frustrated. I’m sorry, I wish I knew more.”

Moody nodded and with a tilt of his head, motioned for Kreacher to exit the room.

“Wait,” Regulus said, gripping the cuff of Moody’s robes as he walked by. “Please. Find my brother and bring him back.”

“I will do my very best,” Moody vowed and the two men left quickly, shutting the door quietly behind them.

The silence and stillness of his room left Regulus feeling claustrophobic and he rose swiftly, seeking some fresh air from his window. As he stepped towards the other side of his room, he found the crumpled piece of parchment at his feet and realized he must have dropped it during his fit of rage.

“Sirius,” he whimpered, and he unfolded the note once more, finding some solace in the familiar lines and loops of his brother’s handwriting.

Scene V

“They have already asked Regulus if he knows anything about his brother’s disappearance,” the man informed Cygnus. “They are on their way to question you.”

Cygnus narrowed his eyes at the sickly-looking, elderly man. “You’re certain they did not see you?”

The man scoffed. “Do not doubt me. The young prince threw a fit and destroyed a portrait. Cassiopeia and Lucretia rushed into Phineas’s frame. No one even took notice of me in the background in the confusion.”

“And what about Arcturus and Lycoris in Sirius’s room?”

“They were questioned but refused to say anything useful about the prince, except that he likes to sleep with his socks on.”

Cygnus smirked. “Excellent.”

The knock came just as he expected and Cygnus sent a pointed look towards the man, who quickly moved through the portraits and out of his study.

Cygnus opened the door to find Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt looking at him with nothing but worry on their faces.

“Oh no,” he moaned, his eyes darting back and forth between the men, reading nothing but fear and panic in the creases around their eyes. “Something else has happened. Tell me, quickly.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but it appears as though Master Sirius has run away.”

“What do you mean?” Cygnus demanded, his voice tinged with concern. “Where could he have gone? He’s only eleven!”

“We don’t know, sir. We’re trying to figure that out and bring him back safely. Has he said anything to you, anything at all, about acquaintances or places he might go during troubled times such as these?”

Cygnus shook his head in disbelief. “No, nothing. Sirius and I were never particularly close. I just can’t believe he would do this. Have you spoken to Regulus?”

“First thing this morning,” Moody assured him. “He is upset, obviously, but he doesn’t know where his brother could be either.”

“Why are you wasting time talking to those who know nothing? All of your men should be scouring the kingdom searching for him!”

“I have men out right now, but we have nothing to go on, sir. He could be anywhere.”

“That’s not good enough!” Cygnus slammed his fist against the wooden frame of his door.

“We’re trying, sir,” Moody said exasperatedly. “We are doing our very best to bring the prince home safe and sound.”

“See to it that you do,” Cygnus threatened, and watched with a grim sense of satisfaction as the men turned and made their way back to the main part of the castle, arguing amongst themselves about their next course of action.

“They’ll never find him,” a voice behind him declared confidently.

Cygnus sighed heavily, the only sign that revealed his underlying worry that his plan would fall apart and leave him with nothing to his name. “We can only hope.” Cygnus turned back into his study and his gaze met that of the elderly man in the portrait above his fireplace.

“If you have hope, then you are richer than half the men in this kingdom,” the old man said.

“I want to be the richest man in this kingdom.”

“Well, that takes a lot more than hope, son. You need time and patience. You let those slip away and you become sloppy and careless. You will lose everything you have worked hard to obtain. You are not weak. You are not like your sister and her sorry excuse for a husband. You will be the fiercest and most powerful king this kingdom has ever seen. Do not disappoint me for I have sacrificed much to get you this far.”

“I will not fail you, Father,” Cygnus told the man in the portrait. “I will purge this kingdom of all those not worthy enough to take up a wand. This kingdom will be pure once more.”

Pollux nodded in approval. “The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black will rule once more.”

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