Growing Up Black

Disclaimer - As much as I should love to be the author and creator of the Harry Potter universe, I am not. I am only playing around with it a bit and sharing it with like-minded individuals for their private amusement. And so on and so forth...

A/N - My dear readers, I have returned! I apologise for my absence over this past year. Things in the real world are a bit more settled now, and I hope that I shall be able to return to regular updates.

This chapter is dedicated to Daddybearpa, without whose kind assistance I should never have been able to come back to writing.

Now for the next installment...

Chapter 40

Later that night, in one of the opulent guest rooms of the Chateau Noir, Remus Lupin lay sleeping in his bed. His rest was sounder than usual – the moon, in her kindness, was continuing to wane – and it came as a total shock when his sixteenth-century four-poster bed levitated several feet off the floor, flipped over and dumped him onto the thick Persian carpet below.

'What the devil?' Remus muttered groggily. He reached out from beneath the mess of blankets and pillows and searched for his wand, but, just when he thought he could feel it with the tips of his fingers, a heavy boot came down on top of his wrist, pinning his arm to the floor.

'Hold it right there, Moony,' Sirius said in a low growl. 'You've got a bit of explaining to do.'

'Sirius?' Remus struggled one-handed with the sheets and finally freed himself from his prison of bedclothes. 'What the hell is going on here? Get off my bloody hand!'

Sirius obligingly removed his foot, but Summoned Remus's wand before he could grab it. Remus scrambled to his feet and stood face to face with his friend. Sirius had a few inches and several stone on Remus, but Remus had the wolf, lulled though it might be in its current stupor. His eyes flashed with anger, and Sirius took one short step backwards.

'That's enough, Sirius,' Remus snapped. 'What's the meaning of this? Attacking me without provocation? In the middle of the night? When I'm a guest in your home? What in Merlin's name has got into you?'

Sirius hesitated, and for a moment Remus thought he looked vaguely sheepish, but then his face hardened once more and his lip curled. His eyes burnt with cold fire, and suddenly Remus felt that the night was not going to end well.

'Into me?' Sirius repeated. 'Into me? I'd rather talk about what's got into you, old friend.'

Remus frowned at his inflection. 'I haven't a clue what it is you're going on about,' he said.

'Haven't you?' Sirius snarled. He reached into his robes and withdrew a sheaf of old parchment. 'Read this,' he said, thrusting the pages into Remus's hands, 'and then explain to me just how it came into the possession of Rita Skeeter.'

Remus looked over the parchment carefully, wincing as he realised what it was.

'Er, it looks as though Dumbledore's not decided to go quietly,' he said with a half-hearted chuckle. 'Though don't you think it's rather flattering that he couldn't think of anyone better to go to than some muckraking journalist?'

'Don't feed me that rubbish,' Sirius said, his anger not at all assuaged by Remus's feeble humour. 'There are letters there written in your handwriting, over your signature. Back in England I've got a bottle of your memories, and you're a damn fool if you think I don't remember who took those bloody photographs back in school.' He snatched the papers from Remus's hands and flipped through them, before holding up a rather detailed photograph that made Remus blush.

'Though I must say, Moony,' Sirius drawled. 'I was surprised to see this one. Were you spying on me, Remus Lupin?'

Remus coughed. 'Er, that was Peter,' he said. 'He found you like that the night after James and Lily's wedding. Was it Polyjuice?'

'Waking Dreams,' Sirius mumbled in return.

Remus's eyes widened. 'Impressive,' he said. 'In any event, Peter kept the pictures for a while. He didn't show me until later.' He bit his lower lip. 'I'm sorry, Padfoot. He made a very convincing case, and you remember how it was back then, none of us trusting each other.'

'I do,' Sirius said quietly, letting out a deep breath. Without warning he raised his wand and fired a Reductor curse at the large vase in one corner of the room. 'Dash it all, Moony!' he exclaimed. 'How long is that bloody rat going to keep turning us against each other?'

He collapsed into the mahogany armchair that stood by the fireplace before sullenly handing Remus his wand, which the latter discreetly used to cast a Mending Charm on the unfortunate vase.

'Sorry,' Sirius whispered. Even with his lycanthropy-enhanced hearing, Remus could barely make it out. But it was there nonetheless.

'I'm sorry too,' Remus said. 'For back then and for now. I ought to have told you what I'd given to Dumbledore, at least once I realised he wasn't on our side. To be honest, I never really thought about it. It was a long time ago.'

'It feels like yesterday to me,' Sirius replied. 'I relived that night over and over in Azkaban, and even now I see it in my dreams sometimes. And what I can't really escape, no matter how hard I try, is that it was all my fault.'

He sat there and wept, and suddenly things were clear to Remus in a way they hadn't been before.

'You actually loved him, didn't you,' he said. 'James, I mean.'

Sirius snorted through large tears. 'Of course I did, you prat. Didn't you?'

'I did,' Remus nodded, 'as a friend. But for you it was more.' He waved at the photographs. 'I mean, I've known about that part of it for years, but I never thought it meant much. We were adolescent boys, after all. I don't think I understood until just now that you were really in love with him.'

Sirius said nothing, but looked at his friend with forlornness in his large grey eyes, much, Remus thought with morbid humour, as a puppy might upon losing his master.

'Oh, Padfoot,' Remus said with a sigh. He rang the kitchen for some tea and biscuits, which Roquefort brought up within a couple of minutes, then Conjured a chair and a couple of warm blankets before sitting next to Sirius. They said nothing more that night, but sat up until morning, sipping tea and staring into the crackling fire.

Harry and Draco had planned on sneaking back to London the next day in order to dispose of the papers they'd liberated from Rita Skeeter's secret vault, but they never had a chance. Narcissa woke them early and made them finish all their homework, whilst after lunch Remus took them out into the woods behind the chateau and ran through a series of intense drills. Harry and Draco duelled until dinner, and afterwards they were far too exhausted even to contemplate sneaking off.

It was the same the next day, and the next. A Potions tutorial with Cassiopeia in the morning, followed by Transfiguration or more Defence drills with Remus, and then Quidditch practice with Abraxas in the afternoon – the adults were running them ragged. When they did wind up with a spare moment one afternoon after Abraxas had crushed them in a one-on-two match – damn that Elixir! Harry thought – Roquefort appeared to inform them that Granny Black had requested that the two of them oversee the preparation of dinner that evening.

'It's just wrong, Aries,' Draco complained whilst he set the apples chopping for the tarte Tatin. 'I think I'm actually looking forward to school so I shan't have to work so hard. It's almost as though they've been conspiring to keep us out of trouble.'

Harry looked up from the stroganoff, his brow furrowed deeply. 'I think that's exactly what they're doing,' he said. 'Do you suppose they've found out about our little excursion?'

Draco frowned. 'That makes a distressing amount of sense. Who do you think told them? Dora?'

Harry shook his head. 'She'd get in far more trouble than us. Perhaps one of the portraits?'

The apples were ready, so Draco poured in the caramel sauce.

'Do you think it might have something to do with Dad's being ill?' he asked. 'He's not been at dinner lately.'

Harry opened his mouth to reply, but Clytemnestra appeared at the door to let them know that dinner would be served fifteen minutes earlier than usual, and the boys had no more time for chatter as they rushed to complete the meal to Granny's exacting standards.

That evening Sirius was in fact present at dinner – which Granny pronounced 'not bad' – though he only picked at his food, didn't speak much and wouldn't look either of the boys in the eye. He excused himself just before dessert, which had always been his favourite course. It was clear to both Harry and Draco that something was seriously wrong, but they had no opportunity to investigate the matter, inasmuch as Cassiopeia announced that they would be joining her for an Astronomy tutorial that same night.

Whether by chance or design, the boys had no other opportunities to visit the house at Windermere Court that holiday before returning to Hogwarts. Sirius and Remus left a day early in order to prepare their lessons, so Narcissa Portkeyed Harry and Draco to number 12, Grimmauld Place after breakfast the day they were to catch the Hogwarts Express. (Harry saw further evidence in this of some grown-up plot to keep him from Windermere Court, but Draco very reasonably pointed out that the house on Grimmauld Place stood nearer to King's Cross Station.)

Narcissa bade the boys farewell at the house, whilst Abraxas, who was still relishing his renewed youth, drove them to the station in his recently-acquired Ferrari. When they had left the car in the car park – suitably protected under a thick layer of Muggle-repelling charms – and were heading for the station, they noticed Dean Thomas on the other side of Pancras St.

'Hello Aries, Draco!' Dean called out. Harry and Draco waved back, and walked towards him. Their friend was decked out in fine new clothes and rolling an expensive trunk alongside him. 'How was the rest of your holiday?' he asked.

'Uneventful,' Harry said casually, very mindful of Abraxas walking up behind them. 'We worked on our homework a bit, played some Quidditch.'

Dean noticed Abraxas as well. His smile dropped, he stood up straight and he began fidgeting with his tie.

'Hello, Achilles,' he said. 'Thanks again for all your help at Gringotts.'

Abraxas responded with a gracious bow. 'It was my very great pleasure, Dean,' he said.

Dean looked hesitantly over Abraxas's shoulder. 'Is, er, Ceres with you?'

Draco laughed. 'Oh no,' he said. 'She had errands to take care of today.'

Dean visibly exhaled, and Harry and Abraxas both joined in Draco's laughter.

'Go on and laugh then,' Dean snapped. 'You lot might be used to her and all, but she's a fright!'

'Believe me,' Harry said. 'We know.'

Abraxas raised an eyebrow and smirked. 'I'm sure that she'll enjoy hearing that you think so, Aries.'

'I doubt it,' Draco interjected. 'Because none of us here is going to share that bit of information with her. Isn't that right, Achilles?' He laid particular stress on Abraxas's alias and gave his grandfather a pointed look. The youthful old man looked properly abashed.

'Oh my, look at the time,' he exclaimed, though his customary pocket watch was still securely pocketed. 'You boys had better get going. You don't want to miss the train.'

Harry and Draco exchanged a look and suppressed a snigger, but did as their grandfather had instructed. Dean followed suit, and within ten minutes, all three boys were securely situated in their compartment, poring over the Marauder's Map and planning pranks for the upcoming term.

Even the best-planned schemes can be brought to naught by a sudden change in circumstances, and Harry knew within minutes of entering the Great Hall upon their arrival at Hogwarts that just such a change was underfoot. It hadn't anything to do with Hermione Granger's strange decision to sit directly across from Draco, though they had never been particular friends. It had nothing to do with the decidedly-unladylike oaths Astoria Greengrass was muttering beneath her breath at the Slytherin table. For that matter, it was completely independent of the sullen expression worn by Sirius, and likewise the concerned and somewhat-exasperated expression worn by Remus. In fact, Harry, who ordinarily would have made careful note of all these occurrences, barely noticed any of them at all. His mind, you see, was occupied instead by a most curious phenomenon.

Hogwarts was talking to him.

And the school's native language appeared to be Parseltongue.

Hello, Mr Potter, the school whispered in a low hiss, which nonetheless reverberated loudly in Harry's mind.

Harry dared not respond, knowing all too well that to start hissing in the middle of the Great Hall would serve only to create a scene, but Hogwarts did not seem to take well to being ignored.

Are you even listening to me, Mr Potter? it demanded. What a naughty boy you are. Pupils ought to pay attention in school.

Harry gritted his teeth and focussed on his dinner, though he could barely taste any of the dishes for all the hissing in his head and the chatter going on all around him. At long last, just when Harry was beginning to think he could take it no longer, McGonagall dismissed the students, and, rather than following his housemates back to Gryffindor Tower, Harry instead turned towards the front of the Hall and made his way towards Sirius. After all the mess they'd been through over the past few years, Harry knew better than to try to keep the fact that Hogwarts was now conversing with him in Parseltongue from his very protective dad.

And just where do you think you're going? Hogwarts asked. I swear by Merlin and all four Founders that if you breathe a word of our conversation to anyone at all – and especially your shirtlifting godfather – there will be blood and pain. And it will all be on your head, Mr Potter.

Harry bristled at the school's insult to Sirius, rather more than at its threat, to be perfectly honest. He didn't care if Sirius was that way at all. For that matter, he didn't mind if James and Sirius had been together, though he really hoped it hadn't been whilst James was with Lily. Seeing those photographs had been a bit awkward, it was true – Harry felt sure that it would have been for any boy – but if the bloody school thought that it mattered one whit to him if his dad preferred blokes to birds…well, then Hogwarts needed to be taught a lesson.

He hesitated only for a moment before turning around on his heel and pushing his way out of the Great Hall. He ignored Draco's desperate glances as the blond boy found himself shoved right up against the bushy-haired Muggleborn in the press, and instead ran up the stairs, turning aside into an abandoned classroom. He gently closed the door so as not to attract the attention of Filch, who loathed students in general, noisy students in particular, and students who slammed the ancient and venerable doors of the castle with an especial passion. An advanced Locking Charm ensured his freedom from any unwelcome intruders, and Harry addressed the castle.

'All right,' he hissed, the Parseltongue feeling unfamiliar as it flowed across his tongue. It had been too long since he had last used it, and using it felt quite like meeting an old friend who had gained a vast amount of weight since one had last seen him, at once pleasant and rather awkward. 'I'm here. Who are you and what do you want with me?'

Manners, Mr Potter, the school replied. One would think that a wizard of your upbringing would show more respect.

'Speaking of that, how do you know that name?' Harry demanded.

The school laughed, and the sound sent chills down Harry's spine.

I know all about you, Mr Potter, Hogwarts said. We're brothers, you and I. Can't you feel the connexion between us?

Harry had to admit that he could. He had always loved the old school, but it felt different now, as though it was part of him, and he was part of it. He ran his fingers along one of the stone walls.

'What wonders you must have seen over the centuries,' he murmured. 'How I'd love to learn your secrets.'

And so you shall, promised the school. After all, isn't that why you're here? To learn?

Harry smirked. 'Dad always said that I was here to have fun.'

The school sighed. Ah, yes. Sirius Black. Such a waste of a prodigious talent. He could rise far even now, and yet he chooses to squander his time with frivolities.

'Watch it,' Harry warned. 'That's my dad you're going on about.'

Sorry, Hogwarts replied, though it sounded rather more amused than apologetic.

'So why did you call me here?' Harry asked again. He was starting to feel uncomfortable with the school's personality, and wished he could discuss the matter with his dad.

The school chuckled. Let us be frank, my young friend. Lord Voldemort is a fool.

'I beg your pardon?'

One mustn't toss around bits of one's soul as so much seed in the meadow, the school went on. Above all one ought not to leave so precious a commodity anywhere where it might not remain firmly in control.

Harry went white as he realised what the voice was telling him.

'You're not Hogwarts at all,' he whispered. 'He's made another Horcrux.'

I'm Hogwarts all right, the voice replied. Or rather I was. I don't know exactly who I am now. What do you get when you merge the black soul of a megalomaniacal Dark Lord with the greatest vortex of wisdom and power in all of Britain, a place resonating with the voices of ten thousand mighty wizards, and throbbing with the magic of a millennium?

'Dear God,' Harry murmured in horror.

Hogwarts laughed again. That's as good a name as any. It paused. There's only one problem, of course. You.

Harry raised an eyebrow in reply, but said nothing.

Yes, you, the school repeated. I could tell as soon as you stepped through my doors that you could sense my presence, and it was only a matter of time before you would figure out the truth. That's why I've summoned you. To warn you, and to give you a choice.

'What's that?' Harry asked, though he had a feeling he would not much care for either option.

Join me, or be destroyed, the school said simply. You have until the end of term to decide, but be warned. I shall be watching. If you breathe a word of our conversation to another living soul – or any of the ghosts, or even a portrait – then I shall kill the father whom you love so dearly.

'No,' Harry spat. 'Never.'

Who would stop me? the school taunted. But, since you doubt my ability to follow through on my promises, I've just left a little gift for you to open when you return to your dormitory. Consider it a late Christmas present.

Harry didn't want to imagine what sort of horrid 'gift' the school had in mind. He unlocked the door with a flick of his wand and burst through it as though the Devil himself was chasing him. Daphne intercepted him halfway to Gryffindor Tower. A deathly pallor hung over her complexion.

'Have you heard the news?' she asked anxiously.

Harry shook his head. 'What's happened?'

'It's Draco,' Daphne whispered. 'He was stepping off one of the staircases when it suddenly lurched. It was a long way down.'

Harry's eyes widened in shock, and his jaw set in anger. 'Is he still alive?'

'I don't know,' Daphne admitted. 'Professor Lupin sent me to find you. He said that your dad's taken Draco to the infirmary.'

Harry didn't even stop to thank the girl before he ran off through the corridors in search of his brother and best friend. Daphne watched him from a distance, concern shining from her bright eyes as her lips soundlessly offered a benediction.