VERY IMPORTANT! READ THIS BEFORE CONTINUING!
This very short installment is the end of the story. But if you read it, it will drive you crazy. You can call yourself finished after the ending of the third epilogue section, the one entitled "The Final Piece." I wrote this because it would not leave my mind, and I had to get it out there. It is what I imagine would happen next in the story.
It paves the way for a very long and involved sequel. One I have no intention of writing. I like to imagine the rest, but I have absolutely zero plans to actually write it down. I leave it up to your imagination. If you don't have a problem with never knowing what comes next, then by all means, read this. If it would drive you crazy, then don't read this final bit. Because I am not going to be writing anything else in the Wise One series. This is all.
That having been said, I have an announcement. I do have a couple of projects that I am working on. I am going to post a sample chapter of these projects in about a week. Based on the responses I get, I will decide which one to continue for this site. So, if you have an interest in my next writing project, put me on author alert, and make your opinion known when I post those samples!
Thanks for sticking with me, everyone. It's been an incredible journey.
Never had a year at Hogwarts started out so well. At least, that was Sirius' opinion as he shrugged into his robes, which he wore precisely once per year because Minerva begged him to be presentable at the Welcoming Feast. His usual jeans and motorcycle boots, however, not being up to his new wife's standards of dress for a professional teacher, might not be making an appearance this year.
But he was happy, even if he was going to be forced into uniform. Exceedingly happy. He was a married man, and his son was even now travelling in the carriages from the train station to the school. Richard might think his happiness was dampened by the kid's Sorting, but it wasn't. He'd tried to apologize for it, of all the stupid things.
"Slytherin," the Hat announced. Minerva gave Sirius a look of shock, but Sirius just shrugged.
Richard pulled the Hat off and handed it politely to the headmistress, his eyes downcast. "I'm sorry. Maybe I could have asked if I could—"
"You're going to do great there," Sirius said, putting his hands on his son's shoulders. "It's Black family tradition, you know. I'm just glad you're not a rebel like me, my hair's going gray fast enough already."
"It's okay?" Richard asked humbly.
"Of course it is. It isn't your house that matters, it's your choices. If you can be in Slytherin and also do what's right, then you have nothing to be ashamed of."
Richard smiled, slumping in his seat in relief. "I thought I might be Slytherin," he admitted. "I was worried that you would—"
"You're my son, Richard, and I love you. I'm proud of you."
Richard smiled even wider. "Thanks, Dad."
That was the first time he'd ever called Sirius that. Sirius had managed not to burst into tears right then and there, but later, when he'd told Catalina about it, he might have, just maybe, cried a little. When he'd told the rest of the family about Richard's Sorting, they'd been far more supportive than he'd expected. Draco, of course, was ecstatic. Sirius was surprised he hadn't already made a nameplate for Richard's office at the U.S. division of Turncoat, just to have it all ready for when Richard graduated. (Hell, maybe he had.)
"Evening, Minerva," he said, taking his seat at the staff table, watching the students pouring in. He hadn't noticed until just now how noisy and unpredictable this lot was. He hoped Richard wasn't totally overwhelmed.
"Relax, Sirius," the headmistress said, smiling at him. "He's already done this at his old school."
"Right," Sirius said, and carefully put down the fork he was clutching in a tight fist. "Thanks."
"He's a very bright boy, Sirius. He's going to acquit himself very well, I'm sure."
"So am I," Sirius agreed.
He'd just started to tell her a funny story about something that had happened over the summer when they heard the faint echo of a scream, out in the entrance hall. They both stood up, and Prudence Puckle, the current Muggle Studies teacher, ran into the room, her eyes fixed on Sirius. He bounded down to her, meeting her about halfway.
"Your son just collapsed," she panted. "Fainted or something."
Sirius had run this quickly only once before in his life. The night of the Battle of Hogwarts. He was at his son's side almost before Prudence had finished speaking, carefully lifting Richard's head onto his lap, laying his rough hand against one pasty-coloured cheek.
"Richard," he said softly.
Richard's eyes began to flutter open.
"What happened?" Sirius asked, looking around for anyone who might be able to answer. Septimius Laforge, otherwise known as Tim, was standing right there and spoke up.
"I'm not sure, sir. We were just coming in from the carriages together, and he was fine. Mr. Filch started yelling at us for tracking mud inside, and then Richard just . . . passed out."
Sirius turned his eyes on Argus, who actually took a step back.
"Did you do something to my son?" he asked in a voice of the most careful control he could muster.
"Didn't do anything to anyone's son," Argus grunted. "Cept try to clean up their muddy footprints all over creation."
"Dad," Richard muttered. "Help."
"What? What is it?" Sirius asked, all other concerns forgotten, his eyes on Richard.
"Please make it stop."
"What do you mean?"
"The screaming. Make him stop screaming."
Sirius looked around with a frown. "Tim? Someone was screaming?"
"No, sir. Well, Patty did when he fell over, but that's all."
"Who was screaming?" Sirius asked Richard.
Richard had his eyes open now, and they fell on Argus. "Him."
Argus looked just as puzzled as everyone else.
"Right," Sirius said, and picked Richard up in his arms. "It's off to the hospital wing with you, to get this figured out."
"So embarrassing," Richard mumbled, and tried to get away from him.
"Nothing doing, kid. You stay put until we figure out what happened."
Richard was now fully back to consciousness, and he slipped down out of Sirius' arms as soon as they'd rounded a corner away from the other students.
"I don't need to go to the hospital," he argued, frowning. "I'm fine."
"You're hearing things and passing out, I don't call that fine," Sirius said sharply.
"Just don't, okay? I know what happened, and it's not a big deal."
"You do? What, then?"
Richard scowled at him, but Sirius wasn't about to let it go at that. No way in hell.
"I just heard some screaming, and it bothered me, and it made me feel kind of funny," he said. "That's all."
"But nobody was screaming," Sirius said. "Least of all Argus Filch."
"I know he wasn't doing it out loud. Never mind. I'm fine, really. I want to go back to the Great Hall."
"Okay," Sirius said carefully. "I don't want your first night totally ruined, so I'll let you go in there and have dinner with your classmates, but we need to talk about this again later, okay?"
Minerva appeared, rounding the corner, her green robes sweeping out behind her. "Is everything all right?" she asked.
Sirius explained the situation as best he could while Richard did his best to disappear into the wall. Minerva gave him a sharp look.
"I've heard of something similar from Poppy," she mused. "Certain Healers, when they reach a certain level, claim that they can hear acute pain in their patients. As if they heard a scream or cry."
"Do you think that's what it is?" Sirius asked, feeling somewhat relieved to have even that much of an explanation. Richard was looking interested, now, too.
"Richard? Has this ever happened before?"
His face closed down, and he turned his eyes away. "Once."
"Tell me about that."
"No thank you, ma'am," he said as politely as he could.
"Did you pass out that time?" Sirius prodded.
"No," Richard said shortly.
"Can you excuse us, Minerva?" Sirius asked, trying not to sound as exasperated as he felt. She acquiesced graciously, and he turned back to his son with a dangerous look. "Okay, Richard. You and I haven't had any major conflicts yet, but I will make this one if that's the way you want to go. Or I'll call your mother." He flinched at that. "Or you could tell me without being forced to."
Richard shrugged. "When it happened before, I lost a good friend of mine."
"Lost?" Sirius asked, hoping it didn't mean what it usually meant.
"We were friends from school. I went to visit him during the summer. He had a younger brother that he introduced me to, and that's when I thought I heard screaming. It sounded so bad, like somebody was in such awful pain. I couldn't stay around his brother. And it happens that his brother's a Squib. They thought I was prejudiced against Squibs, because I didn't know how to explain it, so they got really mad at me, and we weren't friends anymore. And then a whole bunch of people at my school got the idea that I was a bigot, too, so that's why I wasn't very sad about leaving that school to come to Hogwarts. I don't have a problem with Squibs. I just can't listen to screaming like that. The one I heard tonight was even worse. It was like somebody was dying."
Sirius was beginning to feel very, very bad about this. "Did anybody tell you that Mr. Filch is a Squib?" he asked slowly.
Richard started. "No," he gasped. "But . . . What if that means . . . I don't hate Squibs! I don't hate anybody! I mean, I'm a half-blood myself, so how could I? Don't tell anyone, please Dad."
Sirius gathered his son up into a hug. "Listen. I believe you. And we're going to get to the bottom of this, okay? Don't worry about it, for now. You go ahead and join the feast, and have fun making some new friends, and I won't say a word to anybody, except Minerva. Tomorrow night, after you get finished with classes, I want to have Poppy examine you. Okay? This isn't to punish you or anything. This is just because I'm concerned about you. I just want to make sure nothing's wrong."
Richard groaned. "I don't want to be weird."
"Nobody does," Sirius assured him. "But I thought you were pretty special, already. Just try not to worry about it for now, okay? We'll deal with it together. You, your mom, and I. You'll be fine." Richard nodded, and Sirius patted him on the back. "Run along, then. Things should just be getting started."
Richard did, probably already coming up with some kind of excuse for why he'd fainted to tell Tim and the other guys he'd be sitting with. He was good at recovering quickly, at smoothing over bad situations. Sirius had been suspecting he'd Sort into Slytherin for quite some time. And he wasn't bothered by it, not really. Maybe he was just getting old.
This new scare was making him feel positively ancient. What was wrong with Richard?
Sirius was in his office, making sure everything was ready for his first class, and trying to come up with a logical way to explain the night's events to his wife. She was likely to freak out when she found out her son had a fainting spell and no one had called her. But Sirius knew Richard would never get over the embarrassment of being yanked away from the feast so his mother could assure herself that he was all right.
Poppy's preliminary, cautious opinion was that it was some variation of what she'd been told about upper-level Healers. That perhaps Richard was able to hear whatever genetic twist allowed a non-magical person to be born to magical parents. While inconvenient, it didn't sound like a serious problem. That was what Sirius was planning to assure Catalina of.
He had a newspaper article out on his desk, one that had been making him smile every time he saw it. He didn't feel like smiling tonight, but he did anyway. It was a very simple and descriptive title: "Ten Years Later." It was a series that Trudy Weasley was doing for the Daily Prophet, one a week until the anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts, interviews with some of the most famous of the participants. She'd interviewed her own husband pretty early on, and Sirius was supposed to be sitting down with her this weekend. He knew Ron and Parvati would appear, as would most of the people who'd been prefects back then, and of course his own entire family would show up at some point. Neville and Veronica would be the mid-November article, and she planned to do Harry and Hermione as the article for the actual anniversary edition.
This week was Jeremy and Ad's turn, and there was a photo of them with the five kids currently living at Thistle Ridge, all of them hard at work in the garden over the summer. James Potter, cheeky little sprite, was also in the picture, halfway up a tree, waving and sticking his tongue out. He'd thought Hermione was going to have a heart attack when she saw the photo that proved her four-year-old was climbing trees that he was only too likely to fall out of.
Something shuffled at the door of his office, and his head shot up. He half-expected Richard, even though his son had gone off with Tim and the other Slytherins looking healthy and cheerful. But it was Sybill Trelawney. Odd.
"Sybill, what can I do for you?" he asked. He'd never really been able to like her, what with her prophecy being the reason for everything that had gone wrong in his and Harry's lives. Not her fault, and not reasonable of him, but still . . . Okay, she was also a crazy old bat.
She stepped into the room, with her forehead drawn together and her eyes distant.
"Sybill? Are you all right?"
Her hands clamped down on a chair, and her eyes rolled back in her head. When she spoke, her voice was deep, guttural, raspy.
"Wake the sleepers, o son of stars. For a long darkness descends, and you must stand in its way. Go to the depths to learn its secrets, and there discover the power of a world beyond worlds. Only with power and with the strength of the sleepers will darkness be driven away. Wake the sleepers, o son of stars."
Sybill jerked suddenly, released the chair. "Sirius," she said with her usual smile. "I have quite forgotten why I came to your office. How strange. Perhaps I meant to inquire if your son is feeling better?"
Sirius was across the room and glaring at her in a second. "Stay away from my son," he whispered, just barely holding back his need to make her a puddle of magical goo. "Don't ever speak to him."
Sybill fled the room, and Sirius fell to his knees.
"Not again," he groaned, covering his face with his hands. "Please, not again."