He wakes up - oddly. Whatever they drugged him with, it was damn powerful, and also the best damn thing he has ever felt. His sleep isn’t restful, as a rule. His dreams are plagued with death and ruin and all the unresolved issues he has amassed over the years.
Dreamless sleep, most likely. He can damn well see why it’s classified as highly addictive. If Itachi didn’t have duties, he knows how he would spend his days - a cauldron of dreamless sleep, a peaceful transition into the eternal nothingness.
“While letting you rest would be my preference, there is simply no time for it.”
Who - Arcturus.
“Where is Regulus?” He asks. Let’s establish the necessities first.
“Regulus is hale and healthy, if not in the best of spirits. You have, I am sorry to say, more pressing worries.”
Itachi smiles faintly. He has truly become free with his facial expressions. Yet another sign of improvement to his previous life. “Nothing is more pressing than Regulus.” He pauses for a moment. “Like I imagine nothing is more pressing than Dorea.”
A huff of displaced air, that might have been a laugh. It seems Arcturus is trying hard to signal his emotions more clearly. Nice of him.
“Fair point. The healers tell me you should be all healed up, physically speaking. Are you?”
“Well,” he says, taking stock of his condition. The artificial calm still holds - or maybe it’s just his mind and body that is fresh out of fucks to give. Truly, he has emoted enough for the entire month. “Let’s see.”
The Lord is right, his body is more or less perfectly healthy. There is a visible tremor in his hands, which is annoying, and he’s weak as a kitten, but other than that - nothing.
“Healers had done good work.” They have. “Other than the unavoidable aftereffects, I am whole.”
“Excellent. We have a difficult conversation, that must be had. I would have your complete honesty. I offer my own in turn.”
Itachi takes a moment to settle into a sitting position, propped out by a mountain of pillows. For the first time, he looks at Arcturus. There is something about his tone that is - not concerning, perhaps, but not calming either.
The Lord looks a rich aristocrat’s version or exhausted. Perfectly groomed, tall and unbent, only the sunken eyes and battle-light in his eyes betray his less-than-stellar mood.
“I try to be frank with you when I can,” Itachi says honestly. “I see no reason why I would stop doing that now.”
“Good enough. Now. To the best of your knowledge, are you capable of going to Hogwarts tomorrow?”
Itachi blinks. “Of course I’m going to Hogwarts. I am Heir Black. Heir Black that has likely murdered his father. Either I am going to Hogwarts or I am going to the Goblins to get myself disinherited before going to the ground for a decade or so until the air settles.”
Something unclenches in the Lord, a tension that wasn’t visible until it was released. “Circe, it is a joy to talk to someone with sense. Alright. I will be blunt. The House of Black is under considerable fire. Your - altercation - with Orion has been leaked to the press practically before the Wards fell. Speculation is rife - the most sensationalist variety of drivel of course.”
The press is still something that Itachi is getting used to, honestly. He had encountered the Daily Prophet for the first time at Castle Black and was morbidly fascinated by the concept. Nothing similar would ever be allowed in Konoha.
“I imagine my going to Hogwarts ostensibly whole and healthy will dispel a lot of those rumours.” He says reasonably.
Arcturus looks back at him, with a faint look of surprise. That wasn’t the correct answer.
“I - don’t care?” He tries, going in blind, as it were. No? Try another approach. “Or - I do care, very much, but am certain that it will die down?”
Arcturus’s lip twitches, and he finally sits down into a wide, cushy armchair next to Itachi’s bed. Instead of the cultured, controlled pose, he sits with his knees wide apart, leaning his elbows on his legs, in a shockingly casual sprawl.
“Your competence in the face of what would horrify most children is as gratifying as it is disturbing. Not that it doesn’t simplify the matter. Alright. You do not care. That resolves one significant issue. I was concerned that the weight of public opinion would be too stressful. Nevertheless - a warning. You have led a very sheltered life, in a lot of ways, and to be the centre of attention will be daunting.”
Itachi raises a sceptical eyebrow. Really, now? “I am a newly-named, Heir Black, having supplanted my father who I have been feuding with for years. I am an established prodigy, from a notoriously Dark House, in a school lead by the Leader of the Light. Are we pretending that I wouldn’t have been the centre of attention either way?”
“True.” The Lord leans back into his armchair. “This conversation alone has alleviated a lot of my worries, Sirius. Your mental state was - uncertain. I was prepared to have to force you to go to Hogwarts. The politics of this disaster are - truly unfortunate.”
After a long scrutinizing look, the Lord inclines his head. “Alright. How aware are you of the political situation in Britain right now?”
“Not very.” He says, tone wry. “It’s not what you might call my sphere of interest.”
“It had better become one, Heir Black,” Arcturus says with a faint smirk. “I won’t go into details. But there is a man - Lord Riddle - that has been - starting a movement, for lack of a better term. Understand, nobody is satisfied with the current regime. The Dark Purebloods especially. And Riddle - he is a bit like you. Powerful, charismatic, ferociously magically gifted. Witches and wizards have been flocking to him for a good couple of years. Everybody who is anybody knows that something is coming. The Light is trenching in, solidifying their power, and the Dark is gearing for a fight.”
Well, this is depressingly familiar.
“And where do we stand?” He asks, proud of how cool his voice is. “House of Black is the darkest of the Dark. Where are we in this little war?”
Arcturus meets his eyes, and for perhaps the first time real understanding passes between them. “I would have kept us neutral, as long as I could. However - now. I do not know. I cannot see how we can afford not picking a side.”
A truly interesting subject.
“I think I have a solid grasp on Lord Riddle. He seems a violent man, but a reasonable one. What are the other sides?”
Arcturus is quiet for a moment. It is gratifying he takes Itachi seriously. “Dumbledore leads the Light Purebloods. Riddle has a decent grasp on the Dark Purebloods. Halfbloods are - in-between, and nobody cares about the Mudbloods.”
“Oh?” Now, this is odd. “Isn’t Dumbledore a champion for Muggleborn rights?”
Arcturus tosses his head, in a very equine gesture. “He pretends to. Most of the measures he puts in place don’t empower Mudbloods but take power away from the Purebloods. Most notably, Dark Purebloods. The Light Purebloods have already spent a lot of their power. Only few still own their ancestral land, their artefacts and such. It’s in Dumbledore’s best interest to hamstring us to by instituting measures that would ostensibly limit everyone, when in practice only affecting us.”
“A solid strategy.” Hums Itachi. “And the creatures? Vampires, Werewolves, Veela and such?”
“The Light won’t have anything to do with so-called ‘Dark’ creatures. And the few creatures they haven’t labelled as ‘dark’, Centaurs, Merfolk, and such, don’t want anything to do with wizards.”
The conversation falls into a natural pause, both of them lost in thought.
“The way I see it,” Says Itachi slowly. “Riddle is a reasonable man. For now, I would play both sides, and keep signalling our neutrality as much as possible up to and including inscribing it on our crest. The key will be becoming indispensable to both sides.”
“The thought had occurred to me. I doubt that I can pull it off, honestly.” Says Arcturus blankly. “I am not a good Lord. Melania is not a good Lady. We put on a reasonably good show, but she doesn’t care about anything that isn’t her work, and I am a miserable old misanthrope who wants to be left alone in my Castle. People confuse me, my temper runs away from me if I am not in full control. Then there is the matter of the current scandal. Nobody wants a weak ally, and neither side will take us - or offer anything approaching favourable terms - if it’s obvious we need them.”
“Aunt Cassie.” He says. Now that is a good idea. “Aunt Cassie and Aunt Dorea. Put Dorea in the Wizengamot, and Cassie in charge of the administrative side of House of Black.” He pauses, spinning the thought as far as it can go. “As for the scandal, why are we weak, exactly? You show your ruthlessness by being true to your beliefs, even with your son. I will go to Hogwarts whole and healthy and show that a duel with a grown Wizard has not disqualified me. We bluff, is my point. The papers are free to print their drivel, and we will stay out of it, and be the better men.”
Arcturus sighs. “Neither Dorea nor Cassie will thank me from uprooting them from their comfortable lives. I try to keep out of private business whenever I can. But in the immediate future, we agree on how to proceed. The trial and the subsequent affair will be nasty, but we ignore it all and pretend it’s beneath note. I will inform the family of how to proceed. A lot of it will be on you. Reporters will harass you, your classmates will give interviews. You need to be entirely beyond reproach.”
“Will I be necessary for the trial?”
“It seems unavoidable.” Arcturus pauses, regulating his breath like a professional. “I’ve been talking with Lords and Ladies in the Wizengamot about a motion to keep the reporters out of the trial. We will not succeed. Dumbledore will be the first one to refuse, and so will a large swathe of Neutrals. Lady Longbottom will, thanks to you. Lord Shacklebolt will, because of his ties to law enforcement. Dark Purebloods might, but they might not.”
Well, the only path forward seems obvious to Itachi, but he gives the words a little thought just in case. “Don’t waste your political capital on it. Let the reporters do as they will - we have nothing to hide. I didn’t use Black magic - I didn’t even use Dark magic. We can spin it.”
A ripple of indignation tenses the Lord’s shoulders, and fury shades the cheekbones with a bit of colour. “It is perverse. You’re underage. No matter how you look at it, to drag you through the papers is the height of dishonour.”
Itachi hums. “Then argue for them being censored in what they can write, but allow them to write it. That way we have the moral high-ground either way. We’re not standing in the way of truth, we’re not hiding anything, we just want to protect a child’s privacy within reason. I’m sure you can write a suitably indignant statement.”
“This is exhausting.” Arcturus sighs. “Moving on from endless circles - Regulus. I am tempted to tell you to stay away from him until tomorrow. Hogwarts express leaves at eleven. We cannot afford another panic attack that turns into heart failure.”
Itachi grimaces. “I have to see him. I will consent to a calming draught. Speaking of - what can I expect at Hogwarts? Will my instructors be informed?”
Arcturus closes his eyes briefly, slumping back even more. It’s nice that the Lord has decided to drop the haughty Pureblood Lord persona. Itachi is starting to enjoy this informal, petulant man.
“I have a meeting scheduled with the Deputy Headmistress in twenty minutes.”
Itachi pauses, thinking. Wouldn’t it be -
“You could bring her here? So she can see me and know that you’re not manipulating her for whatever reason. It would be good to have her on our side.”
Arcturus gives him a flat look, but there is curiosity there too.
“Minerva McGonagall is never going to be on our side. But your suggestion is not a bad one. You’re, quite demonstrably, much better with people than I am. This will also underline that you are still seriously ill.”
“But not so ill to not be able to attend the lessons. Speaking of, will I be able to attend lessons?”
A hum of amused distress. “As long as you stay away from using magic for at least three weeks.” Says Arcturus. “Your classes don’t start incorporating magic until October anyway, so that shouldn’t affect you any.”
“Well, then. It seems the plan is set. The Deputy will meet with us here, we will convince her I am but an injured lost lamb in need of patience and understanding. We ignore the sandal and the gossip until let’s say - late October, early November, then before Christmas we send out a public statement, saying how this is all really gauche, and really, the Wizarding Public should be ashamed a personal tragedy is used to sell newspapers. I come back for holidays, we throw Riddle his event, and finish the year with glory and triumph.”
“Excuse me?” Asks Arcturus, eyes wide. “Minerva McGonagall is not in any way a blithering imbecile, and will under no circumstances consider you a lost lamb. More importantly, what is this about Riddle? Who is in no way a Lord?”
He widens his eyes and arranges his muscles in the most innocent manner he can, tilting his head just-so. “I may have, to avoid incurring a future unspecified debt to Lord Riddle, promised to host an event in his honour at Castle Black. Did I not mention that?”
Arcturus looks back at him in mute horror.
“Oh come now,” he waves his hand. “It’s far from the worst thing I’ve done.”
“And you - you talk about neutrality - Sirius, for goodness’ sake -”
“It’s fine - no, really - it’s all a part of the plan.” Time for some wild fucking improv. “We host this event for Lord Riddle, around Yule, but then, then we host another event for Lady Longbottom the following season, to celebrate her Heir’s Coming of Age.” Oh wow, this is not going so badly. More, more. “We show we are willing to actively support both sides and not only the winner.” Aaaand a little more. “We’re safest if we show ourselves as reliable, willing to openly stand with either side.”
Arcturus watches him for a long moment, not saying a word. “You Merlin-blessed maniac. You’ve made that whole speech up on the spot, haven’t you? Riddle caught you flatfooted, and you liked him enough to honour the debt. You actually like that reptilian nightmare.”
Itachi tilts his head a bit, studying the Lord. “Well. Yes. And, in the spirit of honesty, I initially offered to sneak him into the Library for a day. The event was his idea.” He stretches his lips in a smile, theatric, yes, but refreshingly honest. He’s enjoying the conversation. This Lord Black is excellent company.
Arcturus answering smile has a somewhat defeated cast to it. “That is the definition of a worry for a later time. Did you know who he was before you offered him a platform? That he is the leader of a rising political faction?”
Itachi looks back to what he has come to know about the enigmatic man, aptly named Riddle, and see-saws his hand. “Not really. But the man has an unmistakably commanding presence, and all the other Pureblood Lords defer to him unquestionably. Plus his magic is a wonder.”
“They would.” Grumbles Arcturus. “The current continent of Lords - Malfoy, Nott, LeStrange, they all were all more or less in the same generation as Riddle. He started young.”
Much like you, hangs in the air, observed but unaddressed.
“As fascinating as Lord Riddle is - and he really, really is - you have a Deputy to fetch. Do you mind summoning me some attire that isn’t - this?”
“Fine, nightmare-child. I need to be away from you for a few minutes anyhow. Try not to murder anyone, befriend any current or future terrorists, or start any riots, if you please.”
“I will endeavour to contain myself.”
Minerva McGonagall is the epitome of a beautiful woman that dares you to mention or even acknowledge that fact. In many ways, she reminds Itachi of Yūgao, and he bets that she, like Yūgao leaves behind a trail of destruction when provoked. Fair, but deadly, and with a fiery temper to match the dark-auburn locks.
She strides into the room with brisk steps, walking next to (but very deliberately not with) Arcturus. Her age is in that indeterminate span between twenty and sixty. Judging by the real respect Arcturus pays her, and how naturally she accepts it as her due, she is likely a Pureblood Lady of some importance.
“Merry meet, Lady McGonagall.” He bows as best he can in his prone position.
“Merry meet, Heir Black.” Her nod is as brisk and no-nonsense as the rest of her. Itachi might be enchanted by it all. “For today, the appellation suits. After this day, do address me as Professor? There are rules about how the traditional portion of our students goes about their days without causing unnecessary disruptions to the learning. Not everyone observes the same practices as we do, after all.”
Her teaching profession shines though, he notes with admiration. Not a minute into the conversation and she has managed to spin an informative and valuable lesson.
“To get back to the matter at hand, your Lord Grandfather has been very cryptic about the nature of your condition. I will not even comment on your security detail. Why the secrecy and what needs to be done to facilitate a productive time at Hogwarts?”
He casts his eyes to Arcturus. The Lord’s shoulders twitch at him in a distinctly helpless fashion. He’s on his own, here.
“As you say, Lady McGonagall. The secrecy is for my sake. I was involved in an altercation with my former guardian, Mr Orion Black and to a lesser extend Walburga Black. The Aurors have it well in hand, but my Grandfather and I thought it best to inform you directly. Hogwarts will be a target of heavy media attention in the next few months.”
It’s been a while since Itachi has interacted with an adult not so carefully guarded as Dark Purebloods. The Lady is professional but comparatively, her emotions are all but transparent. Shock, anger, disgust, determination cycle over her face.
“I assure you, Heir Black, that Hogwarts and her staff are more than able to fend off reporters. Are you fit to start the semester? There is precedent for a delay, if necessary.”
Itachi smiles his most inviting smile. “The Healers have given me a go-ahead, my Lady. With some caveats, which will be in the report I will hand in tomorrow, I am willing and able to sit the lessons. Most of our worries consist of my - reception, let’s say. The Prophet is incentivized to be sensational. There will be a great deal written about me and Lord Black that is - not encumbered by traditional means of truth-seeking. I suppose in the end we would like some reassurance I will not be unduly harassed by students or staff, because of this incident.”
The longer the monologue goes on, the more shocked at himself he becomes. Where is this stream of bullshit coming from? Who is this well-spoken, slick-worded smarmy asshole, and what has he done with the surly, misanthropic, socially anxious head-case?
“I expect that report on my desk by the end of tomorrow, Heir Black. As for your worries, they aren’t unreasonable or unfounded. The staff will do what they can, but ultimately we cannot outlaw unkind words.”
“My lady,” he says. “I do not put much stock in the opinion of my peers. I would simply ask to keep the - disagreements - verbal.”
She levels a steady look his way. “I will guarantee the perpetrators will be punished appropriately. Some might try to escalate, I suppose. Some always do. But most of what you can expect will be verbal and social. In that, teachers’ interference would be to your detriment, I think.”
“Thank you for your understanding, my Lady.”
“Indeed. Merry part, Heir Black. Lord Black.”
Regulus refuses to talk to him.
Kreacher dragged him to Itachi’s room, but can’t force him to talk.
Honestly, Itachi doesn’t want to force him to talk. He is aware of just how precarious his mind is right now. Experienced or not, Dark magic is Dark magic. The wounds are there. As his recent tumble into heart failure can attest, his body cannot follow the demands of his lifestyle. How fucking nostalgic.
What he said to Arcturus is true. Hogwarts is non-negotiable. He has explored their options, should they go on the run, and they are not excellent. Once disinherited, they become wards of the Ministry, and thus bargaining chips for the vultures there, to be handed out to the highest bidder.
The would have to run from the Wizarding world entirely.
Living in the wilds should be left as the absolute last resort. He doesn't know much about borders between magical countries, but they would likely be guarded by some sort of magic or another. Which leaves them trapped in Britain. Most of the British territory is parcelled between the Noble houses and warded to match. That would leave just unclaimed territory and the non-magical world. Two young, valuable boys out in the open would be the target for a whole lot of unsavoury characters, human and creature alike. And recent events have shown how unprepared they are to face such threats on their own.
Their best bet would be to seek refuge in one of the creature enclaves. The Goblins might shelter them? He doesn’t doubt that their price would be high and that one or both of them would end up bound in servitude for quite a few years. Neither of Black children would do well in contractual servitude, voluntary or not. The centaurs might accept them, as might the vampires if they agree to be turned. The forests of Ireland are especially populated with dryads and nymphs of all shapes and sizes which could be bargained with perhaps. And of course, there are the mythical Seelie and Unseelie Courts, the mere thought of which sends dread trickling down his spine.
Its a sea of bad options, in short. In contrast, there is the current arrangement. Regulus stays behind some of the strongest, oldest Wards in the country, protected by vast wealth and influence. Itachi attends a prestigious institution where he can work to bridge the gulf between a prodigious child and a fully trained wizard.
It seems pretty fucking simple, even without the bonus of simmering civil unrest which will make hiding that much more challenging.
Itachi has to go to Hogwarts. His fate - Regulus’s fate - is highly tied to that of House of Black for the next five to six years.
If he is to go to Hogwarts, he best not risk another potentially-fatal heart attack. He has already taken the first step to prevent that - sufficiently diluted calming draughts. The second step - the more important step - is to avoid any conversations with Regulus. (It kills him to have to resort to that - to be glad of the silent treatment. But he is. His brother is, purely by being his brother, ideally placed to destroy his composure by a single off-hand comment. Right now, when stakes are this high, he can’t afford the risk of a temperamental nine-year-old taking his grief out on Itachi.)
So, Wednesday morning is spent in silence. Itachi’s supplies are packed and ready in a lovely trunk engraved with the Black crest. His Heir ring glints on his finger. He is washed, primped, hit with several charms of unknowable purpose, and equipped with a thick binder of Healer’s reports to give to McGonagall.
Ten o’clock comes, and Kreacher moves from his spot behind Itachi. His hands pause in combing through his hair. Itachi misses them fiercely already.
“It is time to leave.”
“Thank you Kreacher,” he says. The calming draught smooths his tone into a light drawl, easy and unconcerned. It’s a sign of weakness that he needs it at all. Which is all sorts of appropriate. He feels supremely weak today.
Their path to Hogwarts Express is geographically-confused. Out of London’s West End, they apparate to Castle Black, in the unplottable Black Lands in the North-West of England. From there, they take the Floo to a Magical cafe on King’s Cross Station.
The atmosphere, once the three Blacks exit the floo is - stifling. The cheerful bustle of families walking to and fro freezes and stops, and all eyes snap to Itachi. Gasps are heard, one little girl bursts into tears. It’s all very dramatic.
Itachi, drugged to his eyeballs, ignores them with aplomb. His chin is high, expression frozen in a mask of superior calm, his luggage hangs off his wrist in the form of a charm on a bracelet. Arcturus moves first, taking long but unhurried steps towards the correct platform. It’s interesting, he thinks, that the three Dark Purebloods fit in with the Muggles almost impeccably. In contrast, most of the Wizarding population swan in with trunks and owls, pointy hats on full display, wands tucked into front pockets casually.
“I take it this - charming tradition - is necessary only for the first trip?” He asks Arcturus. “A floo to Hogsmeade is surely more than adequate if it’s the Ward scheme that we need to observe.”
“Not at all. Students ride the Hogwarts express all seven years. Even those that live in Hogsmeade.”
Itachi is still trying to determine if that was a joke or not when they reach the platform.
“There is no point in protesting, is there?” He asks, eying the wall between platform nine and platform ten.
He refuses to run into a wall, but there seems no reason to. It’s just a silly tradition. Well, Itachi will not be bowling over some hapless first year - or indeed be bowled over by one - for someone’s twisted sense of humour.
He strolls forward, and indeed, the illusion lets him pass without issue.
He has already said his goodbyes to Kreacher, and honestly, he plans to call him this evening so that he can squeeze some comfort out of his Unseelie-parent. Regulus hasn’t looked him in the eye since their disagreement, so that’s a bust. Grandfather stopped being Grandfather since the floo, and Lord Black doesn’t hold with such silly notions as sentiment.
He looks them over once, his family. Kreacher stands half-visible behind Regulus, large eyes filled with proud grief. Regulus is a vision, as always, sharply dressed, and chubby-cheeked, loose ringlets falling around his face in an artful mess. Lord Black is the soul of dignity, looking back at him with steely confidence. He nods back at him. He will be the best damn Black the school has ever seen - until Regulus comes along, naturally.
“Merry part.” He can’t think of anything better to say, so he compensates with a low bow. “I love you.” He adds under his breath, pitched so it doesn’t carry past his family.
Without waiting and being disappointed by a lack of reply, he turns sharply on his heel and enters the train. Fucking Hogwarts.