An Alternate Chain of Events

Chapter 8 - Like a Lightning Bolt

Chapter Eight – Like a Lightening Bolt

Harry and Ron had just thrown the cloak over them in time to see Dumbledore, Sirius, and the man they presumed to be the Minister for Magic, enter Hagrid's cabin.

"Minister, this is utterly ridiculous. Hagrid has been nothing but cooperative with our investigation." Sirius began.

"I agree, Cornelius. Hagrid has my full support and confidence." Dumbledore smiled kindly at him.

"Yes well," Fudge looked uncomfortable. Harry could see why his dad didn't respect Fudge much, he was hardly the picture of a fearless leader. "Four muggle borns have been attacked now, enough is enough."

"But there is no proof that Hagrid had anything to do with this." insisted Sirius.

"Black, this is none of your concern and it is not in your job description."

"Cornelius," Dumbledore began firmly, "Sirius is quite correct that you cannot send this man to Azkaban without proof."

"Enough." Fudge looked flustered. "You are both employed under my administration and you do not have the authority to overturn any decision I make." He didn't dare look at Dumbledore, his words were directed at Sirius.

Sirius made to retort but Dumbledore gave him a warning stare. The atmosphere in the cabin became very tense and still Hagrid didn't say anything. Just as Hagrid began to speak in his defence-

Mr Lucius Malfoy strode into Hagrid's hut, swathed in a long black travelling cloak, smiling a cold and satisfied smile. Fang started to growl.

"Already here, Fudge," he said approvingly. "Good, good …"

"What're you doin' here?" said Hagrid furiously. "Get outta my house!"

"My dear man, please believe me, I have no pleasure at all in being inside your – er – d'you call this a house?" said Lucius Malfoy, sneering as he looked around the small cabin. "I simply called at the school and was told that the Headmaster was here."

"And what exactly did you want with me, Lucius?" said Dumbledore. He spoke politely, but the fire was still blazing in his blue eyes.

"Dreadful thing, Dumbledore," said Mr Malfoy lazily, taking out a long roll of parchment, "but the governors feel it's time for you to step aside. This is an Order of Suspension – you'll find all twelve signatures on it. I'm afraid we feel you're losing your touch. How many attacks have there been now? … At this rate, there'll be no Muggle-borns left at Hogwarts, and we all know what an awful loss that would be to the school." (J.K. Rowling- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, p.194)

Sirius's temper snapped seeing Malfoy's smug face and hearing the utter bigoted vitriol he spoke.

"How many people did you have to threaten to get those signatures, Malfoy? Or did you pay someone to do it for you? I remember that you never liked to dirty your own hands if you could help it."

Fudge blustered, "Well now see here Black, you cannot say that to a large ministry benefactor, but well, er, Lucius we need Dumbledore."

Dumbledore remained silent for a moment. "I see the governors have made a decision." He said it quietly but his tone was resolute. He didn't take his eyes from Lucius Malfoy. "The Aurors will remain here in my absence?"

It was not a question, it was an instruction and yet Fudge blustered in answering that they would.

"However," said Dumbledore, speaking very slowly and clearly, so that none of them could miss a word, "you will find that I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me. You will also find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it."

Harry and Ron seemed to be the only people in the room who registered Dumbledore's words, but they couldn't understand how on earth he knew that they were there.

"This is an awful mistake!" Sirius glared at the minister and Malfoy.

"Ah, Black, I'd keep a check on that temper of yours." Lucius's eyes glittered malevolently and Sirius reached for his wand.

"Sirius." Dumbledore held his arm. "Calm down. You have to protect the school in my absence."

Sirius sat down in Hagrid's oversized armchair, unable to do anything but watch as Hagrid and Dumbledore were led out. Hagrid's parting words about the spiders only confused him. Fang the bloodhound rested his head on Sirius's lap.

Harry and Ron threw off the cloak when they were sure that the procession had gone.

"Merlin's beard Harry!" Sirius held his hand over his heart. "What on earth are you two doing here?"

Harry and Ron sat on the other seat facing him. "We came to ask Hagrid about the Chamber, but you lot interrupted us before he could say."

"Hagrid didn't open the Chamber of Secrets, you couldn't honestly believe he'd do that?"

"Not on purpose." Harry agreed. "But we didn't know where else to start."

"You shouldn't be starting anywhere! You should leave it well alone." Sirius had lost his patience. "You're being so bloody irresponsible. Safety in the school is going to increase a million fold tomorrow and if you don't stick to it I'm telling your mum about all of this."

Harry had never heard Sirius speak so harshly before, he had only ever heard him laughing and cracking jokes. The stressed out man in front of him was not welcoming.

"We're going back up to the castle, now." Harry and Ron threw the cloak over them and marched a step behind Sirius all the way up to Gryffindor Tower, they shared silent glances but neither one said anything. When they were near Gryffindor Tower, Sirius stopped and muttered very quietly to the boys. "Next time you go on an adventure I want you to bear in mind how very hard we've all worked to keep you alive, Harry." He didn't say another word as they walked through the portrait.

Harry didn't tell Ron how much Sirius's attitude had disturbed him. And yet, over the following weeks Harry spent a lot of time searching for spiders.

Remus sat in James and Lily's living room with a steaming cup of coffee in his hands.

"So she just left?" He reiterated and the Potters nodded. "And we don't know why."

"Her and her husband definitely seem like they're still together." James insisted.

"But Sirius is right, they work at the same bank, she couldn't lie to him and say she was away."

"Which begs the question of what she was up to." Remus surmised. "I can't believe any of this, it's too weird. First she demands they have a baby, next she disappears for weeks and then she leaves without saying why."

"You don't think she's pregnant, do you?" Lily asked horrified.

James and Remus looked up in surprise. "I don't know. I suppose it's possible." Remus sighed. "But I still don't understand why that would cause her to leave. Nothing adds up."

"You can say that again," James took a long sip from his mug. "I knew they were a mistake, I knew it."

"I'm sorry." It felt like the thousandth time Lily had said it, James waved it away kindly, he didn't blame her.

"Have you bumped into her on the road?"

James and Lily shook their heads. "We've been too busy to go down there, and, well, I didn't think Sirius would like it." Lily answered.

"At least he's keeping occupied at Hogwarts, otherwise I'd hate to see what he'd be like." Remus shuddered at the thought.

It was the first time Remus had been round in a while. Lily thought he looked awful. He was thinner and his face was more pinched than she remembered it. There were even streaks of grey appearing in his hair.

"Remus are you alright?" asked Lily.

"Me?" He was surprised. "I'm fine." Lily continued to look at him. "Well, actually, I've been better. I'm having so much trouble holding on to a job, and it's affecting Ronnie and I more than I would like. But," he tried to sound matter of fact. "Sirius is a bigger problem right now."

"Why don't we take a walk up the road," James suggested. "Visit old Monty at the pub, take in the scenery on the way…"

"I'll just get my wand."

The three of them walked slowly up the rural lane, they tried to be surreptitious outside Emilia's house but there was no need. The house was empty and the windows had been boarded.

"I wonder where they've gone," muttered James. He opened the gate and walked up to the house, Remus and Lily followed. James tried the front door but it was locked.

"Alohomora!" The door swung open revealing a dark wooden corridor. "Come on," he said to the other two.

"This place is completely empty." Lily said in amazement, having been the only one to enter the place previously. "It's like they never lived here."

The rooms were covered with dust-sheets, the fires were cold and there were no working lights anywhere.

"How did she get him to move house?" Remus asked. "None of this makes sense."

The front door banged and they all jumped and held their wands out waiting.

"Why are you intruding on this property?" It was a small, plump man holding a wand and a clipboard; he had a nasal and unpleasant tone to his voice. "Who are you?" He barked at them.

"We're neighbours. Our friends lived here a week ago and we were wondering where they'd gone." James explained in the friendliest voice that he could muster.

"Don't be ridiculous. No one had lived here in years." He snapped. "I look after the property for the owners."

James, Lily and Remus exchanged surprised expressions. What on earth had Emilia been doing here?

As Sirius had predicted, with Dumbledore gone the security of the school had tightened to a suffocating degree. He himself was occasionally in charge of shepherding students between dinner and their common rooms. He kept a close eye on Harry, who was indeed keeping his head down. Harry wasn't particularly friendly towards him though, Sirius was worried that his temper the other night had gotten the better of him. He reasoned that even if he had been harsh, it was worth it to make Harry stay safe.

Tonks had noticed Harry's coolness towards Sirius one evening when they had walked the students back and were patrolling the empty corridors.

"Have you two had words?"

"I just told him not to go looking for clues," answered Sirius. "It's just I've never had to tell him not to do anything before."

"Ah." Tonks nodded. "I understand. Don't worry, he'll come around." They continued to walk in silence; the only sound was their feet pounding on the stone floor. "So, how are you?"

Sirius smiled despite himself. "Has your mum been sending you endless letters?"

Tonks blushed. "Well, you know, a few. She said you weren't answering hers."

"And of course she assumed that meant she should just keep asking."

"You've known her longer than me, you didn't think she'd give up did you?"

Sirius laughed a bit, it was the first time in weeks. "I suppose not." The sound of their footsteps filled the silence that they lapsed back into. "The last time I tried to ignore her was after she left home and I was angry that she left me there."

Tonks tried not to let on how surprised she was that Sirius had offered up this information, neither he nor her mother talked about their childhood very much.

"She wouldn't take no for an answer though. She came to Hogsmeade one weekend and made me sit there while she apologised. Narcissa wouldn't go to meet her because she was too worried that Lucius Malfoy would hear, but she asked me about it afterwards and wanted me to pass on messages, but she wouldn't talk to Andromeda herself for fear of Lucius finding out."

"She seems to have changed her mind now."

"What do you mean?" Sirius asked immediately. "This was twenty years ago."

"She's started meeting mum at the old house." Tonks whispered, fearing Peeves would hear.

Sirius raised his eyebrows in surprise. "I can't believe that. I bet she hasn't told Lucius." Sirius had a sudden thought. He'd been so miserable he hadn't seen what was right in front of him. "Lucius Malfoy." He repeated. "I'm such an idiot! Why was he in such a rush to get Dumbledore out of the way? Why would he bother threatening the governors at all? He could just sit back and watch the carnage, why would he get involved?"

"He's always wanted Dumbledore out, he's your typical pureblood bigot. Dumbledore's pro-muggle and you know how his lot feel about that." Tonks replied, unconcerned.

Sirius shook his head and picked up the pace. "But why now? What's happening now?"

"The Chamber of Secrets." Tonks answered, but she was still bewildered.

"Exactly!" Sirius was almost jogging. "I need to find Kingsley."

"I still don't understand!" Tonks was a few paces behind him and then it hit her. "You think Malfoy has something to do with the Chamber? But they're not the heirs!"

"They don't have to be. And they didn't have to do it directly.." Sirius wasn't telling Tonks the whole story and she wasn't following. "He's in such a hurry to get Dumbledore out because he's the one behind it all! He just didn't get his hands dirty, but he knows, he never gets his hands dirty!"

"But how?" Tonks stopped and pulled him back.

"I don't know." Sirius said impatiently. "But I know I'm right." He fell silent and looked up at Tonks urgently. "How does your mum get in contact with Narcissa?"

"Even if Malfoy is behind this, and that's a big if, he won't have told her!"

"You don't know Cissy," Sirius insisted. "She doesn't miss anything, she's sharp, sharper than Malfoy. If she's talking to your mum she's coming round, she might just tell me." Sirius wouldn't listen to any of Tonks's protests that he was skipping too far ahead. "Tell Kingsley where I've gone!"

He ran flat out until he could get beyond the boundaries and disapparate, passing McGonagall and knocking her slightly on the way. "Black!" She called angrily. "You may not be a student anymore but running in the halls is still not permitted!" Tonks caught up to her panting. "Nymphadora, what is going on?"

"He thinks he's figured something out." Tonks struggled for breath and clutched a stitch at her side. "I don't understand what, he wasn't making sense. He's gone to see my mum."

McGonagall shook her head. "He has not got permission to leave the school!"

"I told him that, but he says it's important."

"That boy has not changed." McGonagall couldn't decide whether to be cross or resigned. "I suppose we'll just have to wait to see what he finds."

Harry and Ron left the forest and ran flat out to the castle. They threw the cloak over them and began to search for Sirius. To their initial relief, they ran straight into Tonks.

"He's not here." She said, after she had gotten over the shock at their appearance.

"Where's he gone?" Harry demanded.

"God knows, he wasn't making sense." She shrugged. "Hopefully he'll be back tomorrow, you should look for him then. Come on, I'll take you back up to your dorm." Harry and Ron followed, having a silent debate about what they should do.

"We just have to wait until tomorrow, if he's back we'll tell him and if not we'll tell someone else." Harry whispered. "Let's give it until tomorrow."

"I'm glad I wasn't in Gryffindor," Tonks said, unaware of anything unusual. "It's a really long walk to your house."

Sirius banged on Andromeda's door. She answered in alarm.

"What on earth? It's the middle of the night Sirius! What's going on?" She wrapped her dressing gown more tightly around her middle.

"You're seeing Narcissa." His brain was in overdrive.

"Did Nymphadora tell you? I'm sorry if you're upset-" Andromeda began but he cut her off.

"No, no. I'm not upset, I'm delighted. How do you contact her without Lucius finding out?"

Andromeda looked startled. "Sirius you're not making any sense. Sit down, take a breath."

"No!" Sirius said dismissively. "This is really, really important, Dromeda." He held her by either shoulder. "Now please tell me how you can contact Narcissa?"

"She sends me a note. I never contact her." Andromeda said apologetically.

"Never?" Sirius asked in dismay.

"Well only, once, initially to say we were selling the house."

"Andromeda," Sirius was struck by an idea. "I need you to write and tell her that there's a buyer for the house and she needs to collect some things. She'll understand that you want to meet her and it doesn't matter if Lucius reads it." Andromeda agreed, but she was concerned about the fanatic light in his eyes.

"And tell her that the buyer is coming at noon." Sirius said as he headed out the door. "Thank you!"

"But you haven't told me what any of this is about!" Andromeda was never heard, he had already disappeared into thin air.

Ted was finally woken by the noise and came down the stairs. "What was that about?"

"I think Sirius has lost his mind."

Sirius went to the house at eleven am the next day. He didn't want to risk missing Narcissa, it was too important.

He sat at the kitchen table and drummed his fingers on the wood impatiently. He'd amused himself for ten minutes watching Kreacher struggling against his bond to obey and his determination not to serve Sirius when he was asked to make him a cup of tea.

Finally, at quarter to twelve Narcissa appeared in the kitchen. Sirius hadn't anticipated how awkward it would be between them, they hadn't been alone in the same room since he was sixteen and she had begged him not to go.

"Cissy," he tried to keep his tone friendly, he didn't want to scare her off.

"Sirius." Her tone was surprised but not unfriendly. "I thought I was meeting Andromeda."

"I'm sorry." He said. "I didn't think you'd come if it was me." He gestured to the table. "Please sit."

She did so but slowly and nervously. "How are you?"

"I'm well thank you. Yourself?" He could feel the corners of his mouth twitching. After everything that had happened, here they were exchanging pleasantries.

"Well thank you." She nodded stiffly.

"Cissy," Sirius said kindly. "I need something from you."

Narcissa was shocked. What did he know about Emilia? He couldn't know anything, he wouldn't be this calm, would he?

"Please hear me out," he said urgently. "I'm talking to my cousin, the one who always protected me when we were children, the one who wouldn't hurt an innocent person." He looked at her directly, and although she desperately wanted to, she didn't look away. "Cissy, how did Lucius open the Chamber of Secrets?"

Narcissa began to panic. It was the choice she had been dreading ever since she had struck up contact with Andromeda, Lucius or her family? "I don't know." She hedged.

"Cissy, please tell me, innocent lives depend on this." Sirius kept his voice gentle, trying to keep any urgency from it. He approached her as one would a scared lamb. "You're not a monster."

"He planted a diary." Narcissa looked at floor. "I don't know how it works, but it has something to do with a diary."

"Where did he plant the diary?"

Narcissa looked up hesitantly. "On the youngest Weasley child, their daughter."

Sirius breathed in relief. "Who is the heir to Slytherin?"

"Him." Was all Narcissa could bring herself to say. "I don't know anymore, I promise."

Sirius nodded. He needed to go back to school immediately. He could stop it all. "Cissy, you can still get out." He looked at her pleadingly. "You don't have to be with that monster."

"I can't leave my son." Her tone was resolute.

Sirius nodded, he was regretful that his cousin still existed in that cold shell, it would have been easier if she were evil. "Thank you for this."

Narcissa smiled. "Don't get yourself killed."

Sirius smiled despite himself. "I'll be fine. Watch your back, Cis, it's a dangerous time to be a Malfoy."

Narcissa watched him go with regret. He would never know what she'd done for him. He thought she didn't care, perhaps that was better. Narcissa looked around the dark cavernous kitchen of her childhood and knew that this time, she would never come back or see her family again. It was for the best. After all, she'd chosen her side, and one couldn't go back on their decisions.

When Sirius returned to Hogwarts it was clear that something had happened. He ran straight into a furious McGonagall.

"Where have you been?" She shouted and led him up into Dumbledore's office. "Black, you've been utterly irresponsible to a degree that I wouldn't have believed!"

"Professor listen." Sirius said. "I've been chasing a lead. I know who opened the Chamber of Secrets, but she didn't mean to, she was being used."

"What on earth are you talking about?"

"It's Arthur Weasley's daughter."

"It can't be." She sounded tired.

"But it is! You see-"

"Black." She cut him off. "It cannot be Ginny Weasley, she has been taken into the chamber."

"WHAT?" He stood up. "Why aren't we doing anything?"

"Gilderoy has gone to deal with it apparently."

"Of course he hasn't! The man's a complete fraud, you know that."

"Sirius." She said sternly. "Without knowing where the entrance is there is nothing we can do."

The name Ginny Weasley echoed around Sirius's brain. It was Ron's sister, Harry's best friend Ron. What if they… no but how would they know where the entrance was?

Sirius ran to Lockhart's office. He found his wand discarded on the desk and a half packed trunk. Disconcerted by the scene, and the amount of Lockhart portraits waving at him, Sirius left and headed to Gryffindor Tower.

"There you are! McGonagall said you were back, what happened?" Tonks asked eagerly when he bumped into her on the staircase.

"It was Malfoy, I told you." Sirius was certain that Harry would be in the common room but he needed to check, just in case.

"What?" Tonks was surprised.

Sirius explained everything, everything he had suspected to everything Narcissa had told him.

"Blimey. What an evil git!" Tonks exclaimed. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you."

"Don't worry about it." They ascended another staircase.

"Did Harry find you?"

"Why would Harry have found me?" He stopped midstep and Tonks walked into his back.

"He was looking for you last night, it looked important, him and Ron were under that cloak and they just appeared, they scared me half to death!"

"Do you know what they wanted?" Sirius's voice was urgent.

Tonks shook her head.

Sirius abruptly changed direction and headed downstairs at speedy pace.

"Where are you going?" Tonks called after him.

"We need Dumbledore, they've gone into the Chamber after Ginny!"

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