An Alternate Chain of Events

Chapter 6 - Attacks

Chapter Six – Attacks

While Kingsley and Tonks examined the last remaining corridors of the school, Dumbledore waited in the snowy grounds by the Whomping Willow. An enormous black dog appeared at the mouth of the tree, starkly outlined by the white backdrop. Dumbledore watched the dog patiently as it waded through the deep snow towards him and then slowly he went into the cover of the Forbidden Forest. What was once the dog became Sirius Black.

"Anything?"

"No, the shack's clear." Sirius replied, shaking the snow out of his wet hair.

Dumbledore nodded gravely. "I didn't expect there to be any signs but it is always prudent to check."

Sirius nodded in agreement. "Albus, I'm not sure what more we can do."

"Alas, I too am running out of ideas." Defeated, Dumbledore and Sirius began the cold walk back up to the castle. "I hear from Phineas you've inherited the house of Black."

Sirius sighed. "I'm going to sell it the first moment I'm back in London."

Dumbledore left a measured silence. "Sirius, I would ask you not to, for the time being. I fear there is a time where such a place will prove useful."

Sirius gaped in surprise. "In all respect Headmaster, I can't imagine a time when that house will be anything but a burden."

"The house is well protected by magic and if it was made additionally unplottable on a map it would be an infinitely useful safe house."

"Are you suggesting that the war's going to start again now?"

"I cannot be sure." Dumbledore replied. "But tidings do seem to be becoming graver and as I mentioned, exercising caution is never to one's detriment." Sirius didn't reply. They entered the warm amber glow of the Entrance Hall, immeasurably glad to be out of the snow. "Would you at least consider it?"

Sirius nodded and Dumbledore departed up the stairs. An irate Professor Snape joined Dumbledore before he had reached the second staircase. Their conversation echoed into the Entrance Hall to Sirius.

"… Finch-Fletchley attacked and found by Potter." Snape's voice rang. Sirius bounded upstairs, three at a time, until he saw them together. "He's waiting in your office."

"Harry found another victim?" Sirius didn't bother pretending that he hadn't been listening.

"So it seems." At that moment, Dumbledore looked older than Sirius had ever seen him.

"Professor, surely you don't believe that Harry is behind the attacks?" Sirius was incredulous.

"He has been found at the seen of the crime, that's twice now I believe." Snape's voice was silky and vindictive. Sirius reached for his wand.

"Stop." Dumbledore did not raise his voice but his tone carried such authority that both men backed down. "I do not believe Harry is behind this, Sirius. However, his presence at the scene is disturbing."

"I'm coming with you to your office." Sirius made to ascend the next flight of stairs.

"No." Dumbledore said with a note of finality. "You will go to the corridor where the victim was found and search for clues. I will speak to Harry alone." Dumbledore turned with a swish of robes, leaving Snape and Sirius glaring at each other. They were only disturbed by the sound of the Entrance Hall doors being flung open, letting in the whistling wind and frantic footsteps of someone running up the stairs.

She wiped the snow out of her eyes and ran straight into Sirius.

"Lily, what on earth are you doing here?"

"I only just got your message, I'm here for Harry." Lily directed her words at Sirius, she had not expected to run straight into Snape and she felt embarrassed.

"He's upstairs with Dumbledore," Sirius explained. "There's been another attack, I'm just going to –"

"Another attack?" She said sharply, attempting to push past him and fight her way to Dumbledore's office. "I'm taking him home."

"You can't do that." Sirius held her arms. "Lily, calm down. Dumbledore wants to talk to him, just give them a few minutes."

Lily stopped struggling. "Fine." She said disparagingly.

"Why don't you come with me to look at the corridor where the boy was found? Then we'll go to Dumbledore."

"Come to my office." Snape said unexpectedly. "I can make you a calming draught before you see the Headmaster."

"I don't need a calming draught!" Lily sounded more vicious than she had intended.

Sirius looked at her warily. "Lil, maybe you should take a bit. It couldn't hurt." He squeezed her shoulder. "I won't be long."

Lily gulped and followed Snape down into his office, this had not panned out how she had expected. She obediently took a sip of the potion and to her annoyance she did indeed feel better. They made awkward small talk, not daring to look each other in the eye.

"You haven't told Potter then," the words escaped Snape when the elephant in the room had become too much to bear.

"What makes you say that?" Snapped Lily.

"He didn't try to attack me when I saw him at the Quidditch match."

Lily had forgotten that they'd even seen each other. She rubbed her face wearily, desperately wishing that she were anywhere else. "There's nothing to tell him, Severus."

Snape looked hurt. His mouth disappeared into a thin line. "If it was nothing then why didn't you tell him?"

"What would be the point?" Lily raised her voice. "It was an accident and it meant nothing, it's not worth hurting him."

Snape curled his fist up into balls, his knuckles had turned as white as his face. "It did mean something." His voice was quiet and dangerous. "You know it meant something."

Lily looked upon him sadly; she had never meant to inflict this damage. It would have been better for them all if Snape had never reappeared in their lives. "Severus," She said it loudly and clearly. "I love James, I will always love James. That kiss was a mistake and you need to accept that."

Snape wore an ugly expression, and Lily couldn't tell whether he was going to cry or curse her. She made to leave before she could find out, uttering a last apology. She opened his office door to find Sirius on the other side; he was looking at her as though he had never seen her before.

"I can explain."

Harry was still in shock from the Phoenix bursting into flames when Dumbledore said that he believed him.

"I must ask you, Harry, whether there is anything you'd like to tell me," he said gently. "Anything at all."

… "No," said Harry, "there isn't anything, Professor."

Dumbledore continued to survey Harry thoughtfully, Harry could feel Dumbledore staring straight through him and mulling over Harry's secrets in his genius brain.

"Very well." Dumbledore said quietly. "But I wish to offer you one piece of advice, if I may," he looked at Harry seriously. "Although bravery is an infinitely admirable quality, asking for help when in need is equally important. If you do not feel able to confide in me, and I assure you Harry I am an excellent confidant, then please do confide in someone whom you feel able to, someone with the professional ability to put an end to these unfortunate circumstances in which we find ourselves."

"I will, sir." Harry knew that Dumbledore was talking about Sirius, but his father had already said that Sirius was uncomfortable talking about being related to the Malfoys, he couldn't go and ask him if Malfoy was the heir. What if he accidentally implied that Sirius was also an heir? He didn't want to offend him.

Sirius and Lily burst into Dumbledore's office unexpectedly.

"Mum?" Harry said incredulously. "What on earth are you doing here?"

"Sorry about barging in Albus." Lily looked directly at Harry.

"Not at all," Dumbledore looked on in understanding. "Sirius why don't we have a walk and you can tell me your findings." He swept out of the office leaving Harry and Lily alone.

"I want you to come home." She grabbed his hand and squeezed it. "It's all too dangerous and I can see that you're getting embroiled again, just like last year."

Harry withdrew his hand. "It's nothing like last year," he said defiantly. "And I'm not going home! I'm not even half way through my school year."

"Harry these attacks are getting more frequent, what if they get more serious?" Lily was practically begging him.

Harry shook his head. "I'm not muggle born, I'm not a target."

"You're you!" Lily cried. "You're a bloody obvious target." Silence hung like lead between them, Lily hadn't meant to phrase it so bluntly.

"You think that Voldemort's behind this?" asked Harry in a much more subdued manner.

Lily faltered. "I don't know." She sat down and Harry sat next to her. "But it's dark stuff and they can't get to the bottom of it."

"What does dad think?"

"He doesn't know that I'm here." Lily gave a half smile. "Sometimes dad gets too caught up in adventure to be sensible."

"Meaning that he thinks I should stay?"

"Meaning that he would want to stay if he were in your shoes." Lily corrected him. "But you're not dad, Harry, you're you. I really would like you to come home." Lily tried asking this time, hoping this would yield better results.

Harry looked back at her sadly. "No, I'm sorry, I want to stay." Lily looked like she could have cried. Harry hugged her. "I really am sorry, mum, but I feel like leaving would be the wrong thing to do."

"At least promise me that you're not going to do your own detective work, Harry. That's what they're paying Sirius for."

Harry was very glad that he was not looking at his mother when he promised her that.

Lily accompanied him back up to Gryffindor Tower and then began to walk down the large castle to go home. Sirius was in the Entrance Hall waiting for her.

"You need to tell James." Was the first thing he hissed. "I can't believe you!"

"Sirius, it's none of your business. I didn't mean for it to happen and I immediately pulled away. It was all a big misunderstanding, what's the point of upsetting James?" Lily hissed back.

Sirius looked at her incredulously. "Because of trust and decency! Those things you've been banging on about for as long as I've known you." He dragged her out the castle and away from prying ears. "You need to tell him Lily, or I will, and personally I think it would be much better coming from you."

Only to further Lily's displeasure, or so it seemed, Harry decided to stay at school for Christmas. The only reason that she had not gone back up to Hogwarts to drag him out was because James had put his foot down.

"But aren't you concerned?" Lily had said in shock.

"Of course I am." James had replied reasonably. "But he's right, he's not muggle born so there's no immediate danger. And," he looked meaningfully at Lily, "we need to let go a little bit."

"Let go?" Lily had choked. "James we're not talking about being overbearing, we're talking about him not dying. I'd feel the same way if he were fifty."

James couldn't convince her why he thought Harry was doing the right thing. Perhaps it was simply because it was what James would have done in his position, James also suspected Lily would have done the same as a schoolgirl but her maternal instincts had overridden that idea.

Lily had not yet told James about Snape. She had tried, but he was always running out the door or falling asleep or she lost her nerve. Sirius was still at Hogwarts so there was no one breathing over her shoulder, and even when he came home he spent most of his time in London with Emilia.

Lily was starting to worry about spending time with Sirius over Christmas because she knew that he'd force her hand. She had to keep reminding herself that it wasn't like she had to confess to a sordid affair, it was just a drunken kiss and she had been the recipient and not the agent. James would forgive her. Except, a voice at the back of her mind kept nagging her about Severus. The kisser being Severus was the worst part of it all, she was nervous that James would hit the roof and go after him and that wasn't fair. Lily was overwhelmed with guilt that she might have betrayed James, but she also felt guilty for misleading her old friend, even if it was unintentional. She had always known how he felt and she knew that she could never feel the same way; they should have never renewed their contact.

"Lily this is ridiculous." It was Christmas Day and Lily and Sirius were washing up after dinner, whilst James, Remus and Veronica were in the other room.

"Things have been hectic." It sounded like a lame excuse to Lily's own ears.

"Pathetic." Sirius hissed. "Just do it, rip it off like a plaster. The longer you leave it the more painful it will be."

"He's going to go mad," Lily's voice was pleading. "And there's no reason for him to be hurt."

"If you don't tell him, I have to tell him!" Sirius snapped. "I can't know about this and not do anything."

"Know about what?" James asked as he entered the kitchen. From the mead, elf made wine and Christmas pudding he was decidedly merry. He swayed over to Lily and wrapped his arms around her.

"The attacks." Lily lied. "We were just discussing how difficult Sirius is finding it not being able to do anything."

"Lily's just concerned about Harry getting hurt." Sirius said. "I was just saying that he has all the facts and he's made an informed decision, even if it's unlikely, he knows the risk of getting hurt. Don't you think that people should have all the facts, Prongs?"

Lily shot him a pained look.

"Harry will be fine. Other children are staying there for Christmas, and they've got Dumbledore to protect them. While there's only a few of them Dumbledore will be able to keep a closer watch on them." James was unaware of any subtext. He kissed Lily on the cheek. "We heard from him this morning and he's fine." James looked at Sirius. "Is Emilia coming back to yours tonight from her mum's?"

"She should be." Sirius replied. "Worried I'm a gooseberry?"

"I'm never worried about you being a berry, Padfoot. You don't even like summer fruits."

"That's the worst attempt at a joke I've ever heard." Sirius threw a tea towel at James and walked into the living room.

Remus and Veronica were going through a rough patch. He was out of work again and had become increasingly depressed. Veronica had tried and tried and tried to drag him out of it but she felt useless. She was drowning in the excesses of his misery.

Sirius entered the room just as she had finished trying to persuade him again to appeal to Fudge about the Werewolf rights campaign. "Remus you can't give up."

"Of course I can. It's pointless to continue. I don't even want to anymore! The werewolf community think that I'm a joke and the Wizarding world think that I'm a danger. I can't win."

Sirius shared a brief look of understanding with Veronica and backed out into the corridor before Remus knew he'd heard him speaking. Sirius felt that this was his cue to leave. He gave Lily one last meaningful look before departing. Remus and Veronica left shortly after Sirius, leaving James and Lily alone at last.

Sirius's voice echoed round Lily's head. It's like ripping off a plaster. "James, I have something to tell you."

James looked round in surprise, he didn't suspect anything untoward. "What's up love?"

Lily sat on the squashy armchair and explained everything. About how it had been a misunderstanding and how she had pulled away immediately. "I've been trying to tell you but I didn't want to hurt you."

"Snape?" James was looking at her in disgust. "That bloody slimeball! I'm going up to Hogwarts and-"

"NO!" Lily stood up. "James it was a misunderstanding. I was sad and wanted a shoulder to cry on, it got out of hand but it was only a kiss. Don't hurt him, we're adults, you can't just duel him!"

"YOU CAN'T SIT THERE AND DEFEND HIM!" James roared. He was on the wrong side of sober and in his inebriated state, Lily may as well have announced that she was leaving him for Snape. "I can't believe you!" He glared at her and she cowed. "How would you feel if I told you I'd had it off with a girl from work but I've just bothered to tell you?"

"We haven't 'had it off' he tried to kiss me! That's it!"

"How can you say 'that's it'?" James stood up and rooted around for his wand.

"What are you doing?" Lily looked on in fear.

"I'm going out." He said nastily, locating his wand. "Don't worry, it's not to see your darling Snivellus." He turned on his heel and slammed the door. His ears were pounding with rage and he didn't hear Lily crying behind him and telling him to come back. James didn't know where he was going; he kept walking, too angry to make a decision. He stomped along the overgrown country lane past Bathilda's house, past their two other neighbours, until he got to Emilia's house. By chance he happened to glance in the window. To James's astonishment, Emilia was in the house being waltzed around the living room by a silver haired man; she was laughing up at him. This didn't look at all like a separated couple.

On New Years Day Harry received a scribbled note from his dad.

"Well it would have been helpful to know that Malfoy wasn't the heir before Hermione ended up like a human cat." Harry threw the note to Ron who rolled his eyes.

"This is just awful timing." Ron agreed. "We're no closer to discovering what's actually going on."

"We know Malfoy's an evil git." Harry shuddered. "Just because he's not the heir doesn't change that. He's bloody keen to help him."

Ron prodded the fire with the poker, thinking. "Maybe we should just tell Sirius."

"Tell him what?" Harry sighed. "We don't know anything Ron, all we know is that it isn't Draco Malfoy and he already knew that. What a complete waste of Polyjuice potion."

"At least we know we can make it, well at least we know Hermione can." He amended. "Come on, let's go and see her. I don't think that we should take your dad's note though, no point rubbing salt in her fur, eh?" The boys left the crackling warmth of the Gryffindor common room and trudged down to the hospital wing.

Emilia let herself into Grimmauld Place. "Homenum Revelio." She whispered. As she hoped, she was alone. Quietly she swept up the stairs until she stood at the narrow corridor on the top floor where two doors stood facing each other. She glanced over her shoulder at the door labelled 'Sirius' as she opened Regulus's door. If the room hadn't been coated in dust, it would have seemed like it still housed an occupant. His bed was neatly made, his room was decorated with the green and silver of Slytherin House, a quill and parchment had been discarded on the desk. Emilia picked up the blank parchment and wondered if this was the last thing he held in this room before he never came back.

Although she was in a hurry, she did not ransack his preserved room. She searched it carefully and thoroughly and to her great disappointment, did not find what she had been looking for.

There was a creak at the open door, Emilia whipped her head round but there was no one there. Just a draught, she told herself, or the ghost of Sirius's mother. Emilia lay on the floor and reached under the bed to check once and for all if the locket was there. It was not. She stood up and felt the weight of her disappointment and her anxiety. She scanned the room again and saw something she had not spotted initially. On Regulus's bedside table was a photograph of his time at Hogwarts. It was taken in the Slytherin common room and Emilia could see her fifteen year-old self waving back at her, arm in arm with her friend Regulus.

"Oh Reg, what happened to you?" She didn't mean to say it aloud. The words reverberated around the empty room and suddenly Emilia couldn't move. Her arms and legs pinned together and she fell backwards on to the floor.

Narcissa Malfoy took the disillusionment charm off of herself. "I'd quite like to know that too." Narcissa picked Emilia's wand out of her pocket and held it tightly in her hand. "I'm going to undo the jinx, and you're going to answer all my questions or so help me I'll do more than immobilise you." Narcissa released Emilia's limbs and did not lower her wand. "Why are you here?"

Emilia rubbed her bruised legs from the fall, she was desperately trying not to seem cowed, but Narcissa cast an impressive figure silhouetted by the moonlight shining through the window. "I just wanted to look." Emilia replied quietly.

"Liar." Narcissa hissed. "What were you looking for in particular? What did Regulus have that you so badly wanted?"

Emilia considered her answer. "I wanted that photograph." She indicated the one on the bedside table. "I wanted a piece of him. Sirius won't even talk about him."

Narcissa smiled but it was without warmth or humour. "I'm going to warn you again, don't lie to me."

Emilia dropped the pretence. "I would have thought you'd have at least gotten used to lies after living with Lucius all these years."

Narcissa held her wand higher, her eyes narrowed. "I wouldn't talk about my husband unless you want me to cut out your tongue."

Emilia flopped on the bed looking unperturbed. "We both know you won't Narcissa, you're a bigger coward than your husband." She smiled nastily at her. "They all think you're a coward, your whole family, Regulus thought he was always protecting you, even Sirius and Andromeda don't condemn you for being allied with the Dark Lord, because you're weak."

Narcissa slashed her wand through the air and a deep score appeared in Emilia's face. She didn't look so confident anymore.

"What do you want with Sirius?" Narcissa's voice was like ice, and it cut right through Emilia's core. "You split up once, I can't believe your motives are any more benign this time around. What would your dear husband say?"

Comprehension dawned on Emilia's face. "You're the one who sent the letter, telling him about Lucius! You broke us up! I should have guessed."

"Of course I did." Narcissa replied. "I promised my sister that I would protect him."

"I did hear Bellatrix was always concerned for his welfare."

Furious, Narcissa made another deep score appear in Emilia's cheek. "Now, am I going to have to gouge you to pieces or are you going to tell me what you were looking for?"

Emilia smiled slowly. Her eyes hardened and she returned Narcissa's stare. "No."

Narcissa glared at her and conjured ropes which bound themselves around Emilia, confining her to this room. "I'm going to give you some time to think about that." Narcissa left Emilia bound in her dead cousin's bedroom. She had a familiar battle with her conscience as she descended the stairs and headed home.

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