An Alternate Chain of Events

Chapter 5 - Inheritance

Chapter Five – Inheritance

"A student's been attacked. A muggle born boy called Colin Creevey." James read the roll of parchment that summoned him to the office on a Sunday.

"But you said you couldn't see a risk!"

"I couldn't." James was bewildered. "I combed that castle yesterday and I couldn't find a thing. You don't think-"

"That there really is a Chamber of Secrets?" Lily finished his sentence. "I wouldn't put it past Hogwarts, and I certainly wouldn't have put it past Slytherin."

James sat in thought. That was more or less what Remus had said. "If the Chamber exists, and that's a big if, then who is the heir?"

James's meeting that morning surmised his conversation with Lily. The whole department was informed that a student had been attacked.

"Here's the situation as it stands," Scrimgeour barked at them. "At the very least it's dangerous anti-muggle born behaviour and at the very worst Slytherin's monster." There were multiple scoffs around the room at that one and Scrimgeour acknowledged this. "I'm sceptical too, but we have to consider every avenue here. I want a team sent up to Hogwarts to search the castle. I want data on any pro-pureblood/anti-muggle born groups active in the last twenty years. I want a list of curses that could petrify its victims. In short, people, I want every idea you can come up with." Scrimgeour dismissed them, asking James to stay behind.

"Potter, Shacklebolt mentioned you went to see the Quidditch at Hogwarts this weekend. Anything interesting to report from the castle?"

James considered his answer before he spoke. "Someone tampered with a Bludger to target only one player throughout the match. When he was taken to the Hospital Wing and I took a stroll round the castle for old times sake and everything looked the same."

The old lion nodded, taking everything James said in. "Which player did it target?"

"My son Harry." Scrimgeour shared a meaningful look with Kingsley that James didn't miss. "Is this connected?"

"We couldn't be certain." Scrimgeour said after a pause. "Thank you for telling us."

"Mr Scrimgeour," James said before he was formally dismissed. "I'd like to be on the Hogwarts team."

"No." Scrimgeour replied immediately. "Only those without children currently at the school will be on the team." James looked like he was going to argue but Scrimgeour stepped in first. "I can assure you it will be a fine team. Shacklebolt will be heading the operation, and we can send Black if you like."

James was surprised by Scrimgeour's consideration. "Thank you, sir."

Sirius waited for James to return to his cubicle before picking up his mirror.

"Well, what's happening?"

"You're going to be on the Hogwarts team." James replied. "But I don't think you'll find anything. The castle's clean."

"Well clearly it isn't." Sirius pointed out. "It'll be some student in Slytherin who thinks he's hard."

"I think the monster's a possibility."

"Oh come on Prongs." Sirius laughed.

"I'm serious," replied James. "Sirius, I don't think even a seventh year death-eater-wannabe could do that kind of magic."

"It's possible though." Sirius insisted. "And like you said, if the castle was clean how could a great big monster get around unnoticed?"

"I really don't know." James sighed. "How did your thing go yesterday?"

Sirius was already uncomfortable. "As well as I could expect. Didn't do anything though, Andromeda agrees that we should sell it and move on as swiftly as possible."

"That's good." James nodded supportively. Sirius was clearly in no mood to talk about his family so James launched into Harry's Quidditch match before telling Sirius about Harry, Ron and Hermione's theory.

"They think the Malfoy boy is the heir?" Sirius rolled his eyes. "Surely they don't believe in the Chamber too?"

"Yes, they're pretty convinced about it." James said. "Mate, er, could the Malfoy boy be the heir?"

"I can't seem to escape my damn family at all." Sirius sighed, James looked apologetic but it was vital that he know. "Well the Blacks aren't descended from Slytherin. I don't think the Malfoys are either. I remember how much they all fawned on Lucius for being so well bred, and if he had been Slytherin's descendant they would have gone on and on about it."

"I'm really sorry to ask mate, but do you have any records? Just so we can check."

"James, I really don't want to go back to that house." Sirius almost pleaded.

"I know." James said quickly. "I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important, you know I wouldn't."

Sirius groaned. "Of course I will."

"Thank you." James had never sounded more earnest in his life.

They men sat in uncomfortable silence for a few moments.

"You don't think Lucius Malfoy cursed the Bludger, do you?"

James considered this for a moment. "No. Frankly I don't think he's clever enough."

"Don't ever underestimate him, he's a slippery git." Sirius muttered darkly.

"Do you want me to come with you to the house?"

Sirius smiled. "I appreciate it, mate, but I wouldn't inflict it on you. I know where the records will be, it won't take long."

However, Sirius never made it to the house. He was seconded to Hogwarts immediately. Before he left his flat he popped his head into the fireplace to talk to his cousin.

"I don't know when I'll be back." Sirius apologised to Andromeda. "It's really important otherwise I wouldn't ask, they're innocent kids Dromeda."

"Of course I will." Andromeda smiled kindly. "Be careful fighting Slytherin's monster."

"Nasty teenagers more like."

"Still. Be careful. Don't get yourself petrified." She tried to keep her tone light.

Sirius looked her directly in the eye. "I will. Don't worry. And I'll keep an eye on Dora."

"Dora's going too?" Andromeda asked shrilly.

"And on that note, I'm off." Sirius replied quickly. "Thanks for looking in, can you send the owl to James? Thanks." He ducked his head out of the fire before she could reply.

"I'll come home when I can." Sirius kissed Emilia and made for the door.

"I really don't see why they have to send you." She was sulking.

"It's my job." They'd had this conversation six times in the short period since Sirius had been assigned the post. They had avoided talking about the baby issue since it had first been brought up, but Emilia seemed to take it as a personal insult that Sirius had been sent to Hogwarts because he was childless. She was still in her dressing gown, glaring and sucking in her cheeks. Sirius already felt tired and he hadn't been to work yet. All the reasons why he'd stayed single so long briefly flashed in his mind. He suddenly felt like all the women he knew were running his life: Andromeda, Emilia, even his mother due to that damn house. "Em I really don't have time for this. I'm already late. I'll speak to you later."

"Fine. Bye." She turned her back and went back into the bedroom.

"Love you too." Sirius grumbled finally leaving the flat.

Sirius was pleasantly surprised that his mood lightened when he saw the castle. He felt excited and happy to be back, despite the grim circumstances.

He waved to Tonks and Kingsley, who were already waiting by the winged boar gates.

"Thanks for dropping me in it." Tonks grumbled.

"Sorry, I thought she knew."

"Let's leave our own baggage alone for now." Kingsley said. He waved in the distance to the member of staff coming to let them in.

The mist was so thick it took until he was standing right in front of them for Sirius to realise that it was Snape. He briefly shook Kingsley's hand and led them up to the castle, ignoring both Sirius and Tonks. Sirius was trying to remember the last time he'd actually seen Snape, it had been years, well over a decade, and he was the same grease ball from Sirius's memory, just with a tighter mouth and more lines on his face.

Sirius tried to catch sight of Harry as they were led through the castle to Dumbledore's office, but there were too many children going to breakfast and he couldn't make out his godson amongst the sea of them.

Dumbledore's office was already crowded when the four of them arrived. The circular office not only contained the headmaster, but Professors McGonagall, Sprout and Flitwick.

"Ah hello, Kingsley, Sirius and Nymphadora." Dumbledore greeted them. "Thank you for fetching them, Severus, now why don't we all sit down?" Dumbledore summoned chairs so that they were sat in a circle around Dumbledore's desk. With the headmaster sat in the middle, it looked like a mature study class.

"Now, as you are all aware, our Aurors have been summoned to locate the cause of the attacks. Firstly, you are to do a sweep of the castle, brick by brick, but a primary sweep has reaped no results. An earlier curfew will be imposed on the students and corridors will be patrolled by our guests and teachers, prefect duty will be suspended for the time being." Dumbledore looked around the group assembled. "I think that would be all for now."

The professors nodded with grim determination and left for breakfast, everyone but Snape greeting their former students as they left.

"Do you have any suspicions as to what's doing this, Headmaster?" Kingsley asked.

"Many, but they all seem very unlikely." Dumbledore replied.

"Where would you suggest we start our search?"

Dumbledore considered this. "Where young Colin Creevey was found, I think. It was on the staircase nearest the hospital wing."

They turned and made their way to the door. Sirius paused at the last minute.

"Headmaster, do you think that the Chamber of Secrets really has been opened?"

For once Dumbledore's eyes were grave. "Yes, as it was years before any of you were born."

Sirius's eyes widened in surprise, but he wasn't there to ask questions about the recent history of Hogwarts, he was there to look for clues.

As the last of their robes whipped out the door, one of Dumbledore's portraits with a dark pointed goatee began to speak. "Ah my disappointing descendants."

"I would not think that they were disappointments, Phineas," Dumbledore replied. "If they were my great-grandchildren, I would be very proud."

"I fear the qualities we prize in others differs greatly Dumbledore."

"Indeed, Phineas." Dumbledore was unconcerned; he looked back to his desk and resumed his seat.

"To think he's the head of our Noble House now." Phineas snorted. "I heard him walking around the house, he wants to sell the place, alas all of our history will be gone." Phineas Nigellus was addressing the portrait of Armando Dippet but Dumbledore was also listening.

"Sirius is in possession of your house?"

"He recently inherited it, yes," Phineas replied dismissively. "Why?" He added slyly.

"Just taking an interest, Phineas, just taking an interest." Dumbledore made a mental note to ask Sirius about the house when they were next outside his office.

Regretfully, Andromeda entered Grimmauld Place for the second time in seven days. She was careful to move quietly, as not to disturb the portrait of her dear Aunt, or Kreacher, she just had to make it to the drawing room, all the records would be in there.

Andromeda summoned the relevant paper out of the dusty, once polished, cabinet. She didn't want to read what else might be written in those draws, whatever it said, Andromeda knew it could do no good. She scanned the record and read it carefully to double check. Salazar Slytherin was no relation of Lucius Malfoy. She put the parchment in her pocket so she could send it to James and he could see for himself. She extinguished the gas lamps with a wave of her wand, eager to leave the gloomy house. This time she meant never coming back. But as soon as Andromeda closed the drawing room door she heard the gentle click of the front door, someone else had entered the house.

Andromeda drew her wand again and held it steady as she moved down the dark corridor towards the stairs, keeping her back against the wall. She peered down the stairwell and saw the figure move downstairs towards the kitchen. Andromeda knew she shouldn't follow the unknown person, that she should leave the house once she reached the ground floor. Instead, she silently walked down to the basement kitchen.

Andromeda waited in the shadows, watching the figure stand by the table and gradually lower their hood to reveal long blonde hair. "Narcissa?" She said in surprise.

Narcissa turned and flickered a smile at her. "I thought it best to reply to your letter in person."

Andromeda had written to her sister, out of courtesy, to inform her that Sirius wanted rid of the house and would she like to take it. She had never thought that Narcissa would reply, never mind meet her at the house. Andromeda had mentioned she'd be here early that day to have one last look.

Narcissa sat down at the long wooden breakfast table and Andromeda took a seat opposite her. "I don't like coming back here."

"No, nor do I." Andromeda agreed. Andromeda was tentative, from what she could tell, Narcissa had her guard down, that for this brief period of time she was Cissy Black and not Narcissa Malfoy. "Have you been here often since you moved out?"

"Not especially." Narcissa replied. "Family dinners have been somewhat restricted due to our dwindling numbers. I think we ate together once more after Regulus," Narcissa took a breath, "and never again after Bella-" Narcissa couldn't bring herself to finish either of the sentences.

"I was very sorry to hear about Regulus." Andromeda said earnestly. "It was awful, he was so young. He didn't deserve that."

Narcissa wiped her eye prematurely. "No he didn't." Narcissa lapsed back into silence, Andromeda was hesitant to break it in case she frightened her sister away. "How's Sirius?"

"He's alright."

"Do you see much of each other?"

"I see him most weeks, I like to check up on him. I see him less now that he's seeing someone." Andromeda smiled warmly, she saw how unhappy Narcissa looked.

Narcissa was the loneliest she had ever felt in her life. Draco had gone back to school, she barely saw Lucius and now even her mother, whom she had no great affection for, had died. She spent the majority of her time rattling around their large home alone, or having tea with the wives of Lucius's tedious associates. They pandered to her because of Lucius's position and she didn't enjoy it. She thought they were vapid women who could no more hold an interesting conversation than transfigure a teacup. Draco had mentioned that Mrs Crabbe and Mrs Goyle's sons were not the brightest students, and it was no surprise to Narcissa where their lack of intelligence had come from. Narcissa was jealous of Andromeda and Sirius, and she missed them. She often thought about the times in their childhood that they would escape their parents and spend hours laughing, holed up their bedroom hiding Sirius from his mother who had discovered whatever he had done that day. Regulus had always watched from the side-lines, never quite daring to participate just like Narcissa. Sirius was never as understanding towards him as he was to her.

"He's recently rekindled a romance with his former fiancé." Andromeda was keen to continue the conversation.

"Emilia?" Narcissa asked immediately.

"Yes!" Andromeda was surprised. "Did you know her?"

"I-er- Regulus brought her round to the house once, years and years ago. I heard her and Sirius were engaged years afterwards." Narcissa began tapping her long fingernails on the table in anxiety.

"I didn't know that they knew each other." Andromeda had not noticed anything odd in Narcissa's manner. "I'm not terribly fond of the girl, but if she makes him happy..."

"Does she make him happy?"

"For the moment. Quite honestly I'm waiting for the bottom to drop." Andromeda sighed.

"What makes you say that?"

"Just a feeling really." Andromeda shrugged. "Shall we have a cup of tea?"

Narcissa stood up too abruptly, Andromeda looked hurt. "I'm sorry, I can't." She tried to inject warmth into her voice. "Lucius doesn't know that I'm here and I've been gone too long already." She walked towards the door even though she wasn't ready to leave. "I just wanted to say that I don't want the house. Sirius is right. We should burn it to the ground."

Andromeda laughed humourlessly. "Maybe we should." She stood up too. "Thank you for coming Cissy."

Narcissa nodded and tried to leave. Her feet felt rooted to the spot.

"Can we do this again before the house goes?" Andromeda was taking a leap but seeing her sister again was more wonderful than she could describe. It didn't matter that they were in the miserable kitchen of their childhood or that they were on different sides.

Narcissa started to say no, but "I'd like that" came out instead. "I'll be in touch. Lucius can't know." Narcissa smiled at her sister, and left while she still could.

Dear Harry,

Can we stop the silent treatment now? I'm very sorry for the way that I acted; I shouldn't have been so cold. I love you more than anything and I miss talking to you. Can we please bury the hatchet?

Dad said it was lovely to see you. How is your arm?

I know there's a lot going on in the castle at the moment and I'm nervous. Just because you're not muggle born don't become complacent, stay cautious. If you won't do it for your own sake, do it for Hermione's.

If there is any trouble, tell Sirius. He's lurking around the castle at the moment looking for signs of anything.

Don't do his job for him, Harry.

Stay safe.

All of my love,

Mum

Harry received the letter from his mother in good spirits. He too was tired of them not speaking.

"So what do you think duelling club will be like?" Ron asked over breakfast.

Harry glanced towards the staff table where Lockhart was gesticulating wildly in conversation with Sirius who, from what Harry could tell, wasn't paying any attention. Sirius caught Harry's gaze and winked at him. Harry also saw Snape sending wary glances to Sirius all the way through breakfast.

"It'll definitely be interesting," said Harry.

"I think it'll be good to learn to defend ourselves." Hermione added.

"You think we'll be able to learn from Lockhart?" Ron asked incredulously. "Hermione you cannot be serious. He removed all the bones in Harry's arm last week!"

"Anyone could make a mistake." Hermione was still adamantly defending Lockhart's ineptitude and it was making Ron furious. "Anyway, if it doesn't go to plan, there will be Aurors there, they obviously know how to duel."

"Sirius said he'd poke his head in, but they're not going to teach us," said Harry. "In fact Sirius only wants to pop in to see if Lockhart really is inept."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Professor Lockhart has written books on his adventures. Why is everyone so determined to believe that he's a bad wizard?"

"No one thinks he's a dark wizard, Hermione, we just think he's an idiot who isn't very good at magic." Hermione looked furious and Ron beamed. "Oh come on, anyone could write a book about anything, couldn't they? I could say that I transfigured the moon into a giant watermelon, it doesn't mean I did."

"You're impossible." Hermione huffed, crossing her arms. "Come on, we're late for Herbology."

Harry and Ron trailed behind Hermione doing Lockhart impressions and attempting to look inconspicuous whenever she happened to turn around.

After another unfruitful day of scouring the castle, Sirius went into the Great Hall before retiring for the evening, Tonks tagged along. They tried to slip into the back without attracting attention, but Sirius saw Snape clock him.

"Harry," Sirius hissed, tapping his godson's shoulder.

Harry turned round grinning. "Ah you're here, this is excellent."

"What, Lockhart's actually good?" Sirius raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"Oh no," inputted Ron. "Awful, Snape disarmed him in a millisecond and he's floundering."

Sirius grinned whilst Tonks stood on her tiptoes to get a better view of Lockhart clamouring on the floor for his wand.

"He really is handsome close up though, that's something." Tonks noted.

"It's a particularly useful skill when fighting dark magic, it's the key reason why Mad-Eye was such a success." Sirius was deadpan. Harry could tell he was enjoying himself. "I'd love a round with Lockhart."

Tonks sighed. "It's hardly a fair fight, now you and Snape would be more interesting."

"We've had many rounds before." Sirius muttered so that only Tonks, Harry and Ron could hear. Hermione was a few people ahead in the crowd. When she turned back towards the others, Harry could see white finger print indentations where she'd been clutching her face in anxiety. Ron waved to her merrily and she scowled.

"You see," Lockhart puffed, out of breath from chasing his wand around the room. "You're at a serious disadvantage once disarmed." He clocked Sirius and Tonks. "Ah, our guests have looked in on us. These are the professionals children, why don't we let them demonstrate?"

Sirius looked at Tonks smiling. "You up for it?"

"Scared?"

"Quivering."

They joined Lockhart and Snape in the middle of the room. A few of the girls who were there admiring Lockhart, rather than to learn to duel, looked up in renewed interest at Sirius.

"Two members of the Auror office, Sirius Black and Nymphadora Tonks." Lockhart announced.

"Now this will be more interesting," Harry said, as he and Ron made their way closer to the action.

Sirius and Tonks stood at opposite ends of the clearing; they bowed to each other and raised their wands. Tonks' wand had flown away from her before she had opened her mouth. Sirius summoned it back and passed it to her. "She's still a trainee," he explained to the students.

This time, Tonks was ready for him. Smiling, they circled as sparks flew and wands moved rapidly, it took almost three minutes before Tonks' wand left her hand again. The crowd cheered and Sirius gave a small bow. Snape was the only one scowling.

"Bravo!" Clapped Lockhart. "Well wasn't that a show, everyone?" He gestured to Tonks and Sirius who made their way to the side of the crowd. "Now, why don't some of you have a go? Harry! What about you?"

Harry was very taken aback. He looked at Sirius who shrugged and motioned for him to go up. Before Lockhart could summon another student, Snape had called Malfoy.

The two boys did their inept attempt at duelling, although Sirius noted that both boys had more talent than Lockhart. Snape whispered something in Draco's ear and suddenly Draco summoned a snake. Sirius was proud that Harry did not lose his cool, until the snake turned on a student and Harry spoke to it, it looked a lot like he was telling it to attack the Hufflepuff boy. Sirius's mouth hung open in shock, as did everyone else in the room. Snape dissolved the snake into smoke with a wave of his wand. Even he observed Harry curiously, while the rest of the room was silent and staring. Harry looked bemused, he had no idea what had just happened. Sirius swooped in, gripped him by the shoulders and led him to the first empty classroom. Tonks followed them.

"I didn't know you could speak Parseltongue, Harry." She was quite conversational.

"I can speak what?" Harry laughed. "Sirius what's going on?" Sirius looked unusually grave.

"You can speak to snakes," he murmured. "It was one of the things Slytherin was famed for."

Harry felt the bottom of his stomach drop. "I'm not Slytherin's heir, am I?"

"Of course not." Sirius squeezed Harry's shoulder. "But," Sirius hesitated. "The thing is Harry, people might think that you are."

Harry began to panic. Sirius saw his face and bent so that he was eyelevel with him. "Harry, try not to worry. I'm going to take you back up to Gryffindor tower and you're going to keep a low profile for the rest of the evening. By tomorrow, everyone will have forgotten." Sirius didn't believe it for a moment, but it was important to stop Harry worrying. Before they left the room, two enormous silver dogs left Sirius's wand in different directions.

Dumbledore received one, James and Lily the other. All that the dog said was '"did you know that Harry can speak Parseltongue? Because we have a problem."

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