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The Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven by forsakenphoenix
Chapter 5 : Act V
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 22

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Author's Note: This chapter is a bit of a filler, but it does include some important information that you should keep in mind for the future. I promise there's a reason for everything I write! I took a lot of creative liberties when writing the funeral and coronation scenes because of lack of personal experience so hopefully they aren't that unrealistic. Big thanks to TenthWeasley and NaidatheRavenclaw for their fabulous beta work.

Scene I

The grounds beneath Cygnus’s window were bustling with servants arranging small side tables topped with vases of lilies and irises, lining the path the pallbearers would take to the king’s grave. He heard the men shouting orders to each other as they arranged the tables, centering the flowers perfectly. Cygnus frowned as he watched the servants using magic, making a mental note of another practice he would banish once he was king.

The morning was bleak; there was not a cloud in sight, but the sky remained gray, no sunlight to be found. He found it to be fitting for the occasion. Tired of watching the staff readying the gardens for the funeral, Cygnus turned towards his wardrobe to dress for the day. There was a hesitant knock on his door, and a frail, timid boy stepped into his room upon his command.

“Sir, do you need help getting dressed?”

Cygnus looked at the boy suspiciously, having never been offered help dressing before. The boy trembled slightly beneath his scrutinizing stare, but remained rooted to the spot where he stood. “What is the purpose of you being here?”

“I was told to offer you assistance, should you need it, sir. I helped the king with his wardrobe, and since you will be king shortly…” The boy trailed off, looking at Cygnus uncertainly.

“Very well. What is your name, boy?” Cygnus demanded, turning back towards his robes, still undecided on the most appropriate garment to wear to his brother-in-law’s funeral.

The boy shuffled closer. “Verrill, sir. Would you like me to choose your outfit?”

Cygnus sat on the edge of his bed, sighing heavily before waving Verrill forward. The boy combed through Cygnus’s wardrobe, occasionally shooting glances towards him before turning back to the task at hand. Finally, Verrill emerged with a stiffly starched white button down shirt and a pair of pants the color of slate, which matched his eyes. Verrill laid the clothes down next to him on the bed and then turned to pull out a suitable robe as Cygnus slipped off his nightclothes and into the outfit chosen for him. The pants hung a little loosely around his waist, his protruding hipbones and lanky frame evidence of the stress he had endured the last few weeks taking its toll on his aging body.

“I’m sure one of the tailors wouldn’t mind taking those pants in,” Verrill offered, as he helped Cygnus into the robe he had selected. Cygnus hummed his approval as he felt the soft velour of the robe against his skin. The robe was black, the only acceptable color to wear to a funeral, and Cygnus was pleased to note the intricate silver stitching along the collar and sleeves. He stood up straight and examined himself in the full-length mirror, satisfied with Verrill’s choices. He smiled at his image; he looked proud and regal, like a king. Now all he needed was the crown.

There was another soft knock on his door before it swung open, and a head of blonde ringlets peeked into his room.

“Father,” Cissy greeted him, slipping into his room with a soft smile upon her face as she looked at her father dressed in his funeral garments. She placed both hands on his forearms and stood on her tiptoes to press a kiss to his cheek. “You look handsome.”

“You are beautiful, my dear daughter.”

Cissy was dressed in a floor-length black dress that cinched in tightly to accentuate her delicate waist. Her blonde hair was pulled up and back, held in place by dozens of black pins, and her face was framed by small ringlets. She was still young, but Cygnus knew that once he was king, he would have many suitors seeking the youngest Black daughter’s hand in marriage. When she was of age, he was certain he would have no trouble finding her a suitable husband, a respectable pureblood that played well into his plans for the future of their kingdom.

“Where are your sisters?”

Cissy glanced at Verrill curiously before addressing her father. “I’m not sure where ‘Dromeda is, but Bella is husband-hunting among the guests that have arrived for Uncle Orion’s funeral.”

“Is she, now? Has anyone caught her eye?”

She was examining herself in her father’s mirror, and she twisted back and forth, watching with delight as her skirt fluttered up off the ground with every turn. She shrugged in response to her father’s question. “She has barely uttered a word to me since the men began arriving two nights prior.”

Catching Verrill listening to their conversation intently, Cygnus snapped, “You are dismissed, boy.”

The young boy scampered out of the room quickly, and Cissy shot her father a questioning glance. “What was he doing in here?”

“He used to be Orion’s attendant. He has since been passed on to me.”

“Once you’re king, will I get new servants, too?”

Cygnus looked fondly upon his daughter. “What is wrong with the ones you have now?”

“Nothing, Father. It’s just that one can never have too many servants, that’s all.”

“We’ll see, Cissy.”

Cissy beamed at him, those words as good a confirmation as anything from her father. Adjusting his robes once more, Cygnus placed his hand flat between Cissy’s shoulder blades and gently led her out of his room.

“Are you ready for this, Father?”

Closing his door tightly behind them, Cygnus offered his daughter a cocky grin. “I have been ready for years, my darling daughter.”

Scene II

Regulus burrowed himself further under his duvet, trying to block out the noises of the servants setting up outside and to hide himself from Kreacher, who had been trying to rouse the young prince for nearly a quarter of an hour.

“Master Regulus, please,” Kreacher pleaded with him, trying to pry the duvet from his tight grasp. Finally giving up the fight, Regulus flopped back on his back and stared forlornly at the advisor, who was staring expectantly at him. “You needed to be up half an hour ago.”

“Don’t make me go to the funeral, Kreacher.” Regulus’s lower lip quivered, and his eyes welled with tears.

Kreacher’s face softened. “I know this is difficult for you, but the kingdom is expecting your presence.”

Regulus’s eyes flashed with anger, and Kreacher braced himself for the tantrum that was surely to come. “The kingdom may have lost their king, but I lost my father. I can’t…” He sniffled, and fat tears streamed down his face, plopping loudly on the duvet. “If I go to the funeral, then that’s accepting that Father is dead.”

Kreacher stared at the young prince, at a loss for words. He was saved from his floundering by a sharp knock. Mrs. Weasley bustled in, carrying a silver tray with a cup of tea and a flask of some unknown liquid. If she was surprised that Regulus was not yet out of bed, she said nothing.

“I brought you some tea, Master Regulus,” she said gently, placing the tray down on the bedside table. Tenderly, she brushed his dark locks from his forehead, and Regulus wanted to cry again. She was the closest thing he had ever known to a mother and she was staring at him with so much sympathy, he wanted to hide under his blanket again and skip this day entirely.

“Please don’t make me go, Mrs. Weasley,” he begged. He widened his eyes and stuck out his trembling bottom lip exactly as Sirius had taught him; it was foolproof, his brother had said. No one could say ‘no’ to him.

Hope crept up Regulus’s spine as the adults shared a glance, but then terrible waves of disappointment crashed over him as he saw Mrs. Weasley give Kreacher a barely perceptible shake of her head. It was Kreacher who delivered the bad news.

“Get out of bed, Master Regulus,” Kreacher demanded.

“No! You can’t tell me what to do,” Regulus cried petulantly, yanking the duvet back over his head.

He squeezed his eyes shut tightly and fisted the sheets beneath him, desperate for something real to cling to. His head was swimming with memories of his father, of his brother, and Regulus wished he could relive them all rather than remain in the present. Here, he was alone. He did not want to bear witness to his father being laid to rest beside his mother, both entombed by wood and earth, resting peacefully somewhere he could not reach them.

“We do not have time for this, Master Regulus,” Kreacher said, and Regulus felt a sliver of remorse at the frustration in the aide’s voice. “The funeral starts in half an hour.”

Mrs. Weasley sat down on the bed beside him, gently pulling the covers down to reveal his face. “Oh, my sweet boy, everyone is grieving the loss of not only a great king, but a great man. The kingdom needs to know that you can share in their grief. They will look to you for strength to deal with this terrible tragedy.”

“I’m just a boy,” Regulus whispered. “I don’t have the strength to carry a kingdom.”

Mrs. Weasley patted his arm. “Not yet,” she said with a smile. “But you will.”

With a sigh, Regulus pulled himself into a seated position, and didn’t fuss when Mrs. Weasley handed him the flask. He took a swig and grimaced at the taste. “What is that?” he sputtered, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Just a little something Madam Pomfrey whipped up for you to help you get through the day. Here, drink some tea, and I’ll leave you with Kreacher to get dressed. Hurry up.”

Regulus took a big gulp of tea to rid his mouth of the horrible aftertaste, scalding his tongue in the process. “Thank you, Mrs. Weasley,” he said, before she had the chance to leave the room.

“We are all here for you, Master Regulus. Don’t think that you’re alone in this,” she reassured him, and with a final tender smile, she left him to dress.

Regulus released a long sigh before swinging his legs over the side of his bed. He wrinkled his nose when Kreacher handed him a pile of clothes, but quickly dressed in his funeral garb without complaint.

“Thank you, Kreacher,” Regulus murmured, fidgeting with the sleeves of his dress robe.

“Are you ready for this, Master Regulus?” Kreacher asked as he led the boy out of his bedroom and down the corridor towards the main staircase.

Regulus’s stomach was churning uncomfortably, and he thought he might vomit all over his freshly polished shoes. He shook his head jerkily. “I don’t think I could ever be ready,” he admitted, suddenly afraid of what finally burying his father meant for him.

“Remember what Mrs. Weasley said,” Kreacher reminded him. “You are not alone.”

Taking a deep, steadying breath, Regulus tried to ground himself before continuing down the stairs. He may have been a prince, but he was no master of time, and there was nothing more he could do to avoid the inevitable.

Scene III

Cygnus stared straight ahead at the solid oak casket that held the body of his brother-in-law. He gave no outward sign of emotion, but he was relieved that it seemed no one had suspected any foul play surrounding the king’s death. Cygnus was certain that his secret would be buried with Orion, several feet below the ground.

He glanced around absently, taking note of all the commoners that had gathered in the upper balconies of the castle’s personal church. Cygnus noted with pleasure that the servants had ensured that those of pure, noble blood were the only ones seated in the pews. A majority of the purebloods had made the journey to the castle to attend the funeral of their king, those that held titles filling rooms that had been empty for years, and the rest spilling out into nearby inns. The dense conglomeration of bodies had Cygnus sweating.

Seeing movement out of the corner of his eye, Cygnus turned to his right and noticed Regulus beside him, clenching and unclenching his fists against his thighs. He gently patted the boy’s hand and Regulus released a shaky breath before squeezing his hand, the boy’s palm slick with sweat against his own.

His middle daughter, Andromeda, sat on his left, and with her long brown hair pulled away from her face, she reminded him of his late wife, Druella. She peered around him to offer her cousin a sympathetic smile. Druella had died a few years ago, and he hoped his daughters would be able to help Regulus deal with his grief. If his plans to build the kingdom back to its former glory were ever to come to fruition, Cygnus needed a future king, not a sniveling, pitiful boy.

Father Doge interrupted Cygnus’s internal thoughts when he cleared his throat. The white-haired priest, one Orion had sought counsel from on many occasions, stood before the tomb, dressed in long, flowing, blood-red robes – a stark contrast to the mass of black before him. He motioned with his hands for the congregation to stand, and for a few moments, there was nothing but the low murmur of voices and the creaking wood of the old pews as everyone rose to their feet. Father Doge did not say a word until everyone had fallen silent, and only then did he begin to lead the crowd in prayer. Cygnus knew these prayers by heart, and barely paid attention as the words slipped as easily from his lips as everyday conversation.

“Today, there is no separation of blood. Today, we are just a kingdom brought together as equals to mourn the loss of our beloved king,” Father Doge proclaimed, once everyone had settled down again. “Let us forget our prejudices as we join hands and hearts to offer solace to the royal family, who feels King Orion’s absence more than any of us.”

Cygnus felt hands on his back, squeezing his arms, all meant to be comforting. He knew there were those among them that would be valuable allies once he started putting his plans into motion, but he allowed himself a brief moment to wonder if they would have offered him their support had they known his role in Orion’s death.

So caught up in his thoughts, Cygnus didn’t notice Father Doge had turned the floor over to Dumbledore until the old aide began to speak. Shaking his head to clear his mind, Cygnus quickly gave Dumbledore his full attention, eager to hear what the man had to say about his king and the crowd’s reactions to his revelations. This was the only way Cygnus could gauge the purebloods’ loyalty to their king, his only reassurance that he would have the public’s backing of his ambitious dreams for their kingdom.

“It is with great sadness that we are gathered here to celebrate the life of a man who died far too young,” Dumbledore started, his eyes scanning the crowd as he spoke. “King Orion ruled this kingdom much like he ran his household – with a firm but gentle hand. His kind and thoughtful sons are evidence of how wonderful of a father he was, and we can only hope that our kingdom can continue to thrive under the precedents he has left behind.

“King Orion was a fierce proponent of equality amongst not only wizards, but all magical creatures. Before he died, he was working diligently on enacting new laws to further integrate us all, and I can only hope Cygnus will honor King Orion’s legacy by finishing what he has left behind.”

There was a slight murmur through the crowd at Dumbledore’s words, enough for Cygnus to catch wind of the discontent of some of the purebloods in the crowd. Dumbledore stared straight at him then, and he allowed himself a slightly mocking smile, knowing full well that once he was crowned king, he would reverse what Orion spent an entire lifetime trying to accomplish.

“As Father Doge so kindly reminded us, today we stand together as one. Each of our hearts beat the same broken rhythm as we all feel the loss of a leader, a friend, and a father. Never forget what King Orion has done for you, for this kingdom, and his memory shall live in us forever. Long live the king!” Dumbledore cried, and the entire church joined in his cry, voices echoing loudly in the large, stone church.

Scene IV

As the pallbearers readied his father’s casket to carry out of the church, Regulus wished he had refused the potion Madam Pomfrey had made for him. He felt disconnected and uncomfortable, unable to cry. He knew that the adults were worried about how he had been dealing with his father’s death, but it seemed to him that they forgot he was just a boy who had lost the only family he had ever known. If he could feel anything at all, he would be angry that they took away his opportunity to properly grieve, to finally come to terms with his losses.

He stood in a daze, only moving when Cygnus gave him a gentle push as he followed the pallbearers out of the church and down the path lined with his mother’s favorite flowers – lilies and irises. As they rounded the corner and passed through the arch that marked the entrance to the eastern garden, Regulus could see the hole dug out for his father’s casket next to the cherry tree that marked his mother’s grave. He knew that many of the nobler purebloods had massive mausoleums to hold their dead, and the Blacks did have one, built in the graveyard down past the Quidditch pitch on the northern side of the estate. But according to his father, Walburga Black enjoyed gardening more than anything in the world. So when she died, she was buried amongst the flowers and trees that she nurtured like the children she never had the chance to raise. Orion loved Walburga as much as she loved her garden, so Regulus felt comforted knowing his father would soon be reunited with his mother.

As his father’s casket was being lowered into the ground, Regulus looked around at all of the people that had gathered to watch the king being buried. Despite the potion, he felt a pang of sadness, wishing desperately that Sirius would make an appearance, that he would find it in his heart to return just in time to give their father a proper good-bye. But as the minutes passed and dirt slowly started covering the coffin, Sirius’s opportunity to say good-bye slipping further and further away, Regulus felt his heart breaking even more at his brother’s dismissal.

His uncle appeared at his elbow and rested a hand on his shoulder. “Are you all right, Regulus?”

“I’m not ready to be king,” Regulus replied, his eyes never leaving his parents’ graves. He felt gratitude towards the servants who obviously cared for his father as they painstakingly shoveled dirt over the coffin, foregoing magic to do the dirty work by hand.

“When I’m through with you, you will be the best king this kingdom has ever seen,” Cygnus promised, squeezing his shoulder gently.

Regulus finally lifted his gaze towards Cygnus’s face, and though he was perturbed by the slight gleam in his uncle’s eyes, he felt comforted knowing that, with his uncle’s help, he would not be thrown like a lamb to slaughter.

Deep down, however, Regulus began to pray that Sirius would return long before he ever had to take the throne.

Scene V

The night before his coronation, Cygnus was told by Father Doge to take a bath to cleanse his soul. Cygnus was sure a simple bath could never purge his body of the sins he had committed, but he followed the priest’s instructions lest the man find some reason to withhold the crown from him. Verrill was waiting beside the tub with a robe when his bathwater became too cool to be comfortable.

“Your coronation outfit was completed this afternoon, sir,” Verrill told him, as another maid came in to turn down his duvet. “I will bring it to you first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Excellent. You are dismissed, boy.” Cygnus waved the boy away. Verrill bowed his head, and then, after sharing a brief glance with the maid, left Cygnus for the night. “You may leave as well,” he said to the maid, who was fluttering anxiously around his room, looking for something to do. With a curtsy, she also left, and Cygnus sighed in relief now that he was alone.

He glanced at the glass flask filled with Sleeping Draught, and knew that without it, there would be no sleep tonight. He wasn’t nervous for tomorrow, but an anxious thrum pulsed through his veins. He was finally getting what he wanted – the crown and the kingdom, to do with as he pleased.

“I am proud of you, son.”

His father’s voice startled him, and his hand flew up to his throat, feeling the racing of his heart beneath his palm. Pollux’s portrait smirked at him. “Did you not expect me to wish my son congratulations the night before he is to be crowned king?”

“Of course I expected you, Father,” Cygnus scoffed. “You merely caught me off-guard.”

Pollux’s eyes narrowed. “I expect better vigilance from you in the future, Cygnus. A dawdling king is a dead king.”

“Yes, Father.”

“I will be watching the ceremony from Great-Aunt Elladora’s portrait. Do not disappoint me. I will not let your incompetence ruin what we have been working years to accomplish.”

My incompetence?” Cygnus snapped. “Unlike my sister, I have never given you any reason to question my abilities.”

“Just do not make a fool of yourself,” Pollux growled, and before Cygnus could say another word, he stalked out of his portrait, leaving Cygnus to gape at the empty frame in confusion.

“I’ll show him,” he muttered bitterly.

He grabbed the Sleeping Draught and swallowed it in one large gulp. Settling himself into bed, Cygnus allowed himself a smile. Tomorrow, he would be king.

Cygnus woke the next morning feeling refreshed, and was thankful he thought ahead to ask Madam Pomfrey to brew him the draught; his subjects would not think too highly of their new king should he appear before them looking tired and drawn.

It was as if Verrill had a sixth sense about when Cygnus needed him, for no sooner had Cygnus slipped out of his bed than the boy was knocking on his bedroom door, beautiful silk clothes folded over his arm.

“These are for you,” he proffered, and Cygnus sucked in a breath when his fingertips felt the silk, a fine fabric – delicate yet strong. Being a member of the royal family, Cygnus was always able to afford the finer things in life, but these clothes were made specifically for him, for a king.

“Is the outfit to your liking, sir?”

“Fit for a king. It’s perfect.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ll be sure to pass your compliments on to the tailors.”

Cygnus dressed quickly, like a young boy on Christmas; he was excited to feel the expensive material against his skin. If he thought he looked like a king in the regal robes Verrill has chosen for the funeral, it was nothing compared to how noble and proud he looked this morning. Cygnus spent many hours locked in his study, plotting for this very moment, and the lack of sun had caused his skin to take on a rather sallow appearance, but today, his cheeks glowed. His eyes were bright and vibrant, and for the first time in years, Cygnus felt alive.

“If you’re ready, sir, I’m to lead you to the main foyer, where Father Doge will meet you to take you to the throne room.”

“Yes, yes,” Cygnus exclaimed, rubbing his hands together eagerly. “Let us seize this day.”

By the time he was trailing Father Doge into the crowded hall, Cygnus had managed to reign in his enthusiasm. Having the funeral and coronation within days of each other allowed those traveling from further distances to remain at the castle for both occasions, and Cygnus was secretly thrilled that so many of his subjects would see him become their king.

Finally, Father Doge stood in front of the throne and motioned for Cygnus to kneel before him. He held his arms outstretched until the room quieted and Cygnus could hear nothing but the sounds of his own breathing.

“Cygnus Phineas Black the Third, do you swear to these people, your subjects, that you will offer them the rights and customs awarded to them by the kings of old in accordance with the laws currently in effect?”

“I do.” Cygnus was relieved that the integration laws Orion had been working diligently on for years had yet to be passed. One less promise he would make today that he did not have to break.

“Do you swear to remain ever merciful and righteous during your rule?”

“I do.”

Father Doge turned towards Dumbledore, who had been standing beside him, the large silver hooplet with eight half-arches adorned with rubies and emeralds resting on the pillow held in his hands. Lifting the crown, Father Doge stepped forward, and with a grand flourish, he placed the crown upon Cygnus’s head. The crown was heavier than he expected, but the weight was welcome. His lips quirked up a bit before he schooled his face into that of a serious monarch.

“Stand and face your subjects,” Father Doge commanded him.

Cygnus did as he was told as Father Doge and Dumbledore stepped in front of him, reversing their positions. The two men knelt before Cygnus and the crowd followed suit, until the only man standing in the room was Cygnus. He gazed at the tops of his subjects’ heads and felt an intoxicating rush of power race through him. Regulus was at the front of the room, kneeling beside his cousins, his black hair a dark contrast to his pale face. Cygnus knew that when Regulus turned seventeen, it would be his turn to stand here before his subjects and declare himself as their king. Cygnus would prepare the young prince well.

“Will you, the people, accept this man to rule as your king?” Father Doge asked those gathered in the hall.

“We will and we do!” the crowd cheered loudly.

“We offer you oaths of fealty,” Father Doge said. “We are your loyal subjects and share the honor of serving you, our king.”

“I accept your vows and will hold you to them,” Cygnus replied steadily, as his daughters beamed at him.

His eyes caught those of some of the supporters he had quietly been recruiting, and they all tilted their heads in acknowledgement, their promises of loyalty already inked into the skin of their left forearms.

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