Title: fish hooks in the corners of their mouths
Category: Books » Harry Potter
Language: English, Rating: Rated: T
Summary: "Monachopsis: The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place." ... Not entirely accurate, but it'll do for describing the situation. People swallow that explanation easier than: 'I died once, but it's okay! I got better!' [SI OC, Black!OC, Marauders Era]
Dedication: This one goes out to bluejanes for being an entirely different league of human being, and billy, who hates SI OCs and shouldn't even be able to read this in the first place but undoubtedly will anyway.
Notes: I combined chapters one and two in this one, because I can
fish hooks in the corners of their mouths
When I was twelve years old –
The most important part about me is –
To properly understand my situation, I think you would need to –
Truthfully, I don't have the faintest idea on how to begin this tale.
Usually I have some clue on how to start out: a few poetic entries here, a sarcastic quip here, a convoluted run-on sentence there – but that was when it was someone else's life; when I was the omniscient god manoeuvring her marionettes to her own tune, the girl who threw her characters into their personal view of hell with a smile, who would crack open fictional people for her own entertainment just to catch a glimpse of what they were made of.
I'm not much of that person anymore.
Why don't you just start at the beginning, you ask? You've heard that's a good place to start stories, is that it?
Aaah… I'm not sure I can do that. Turns out, it's harder to write a beginning when you're writing about yourself. Much, much harder. I think it's because I don't know where or when the story starts.
Is the beginning my rebirth, my ejection from the red-hued paradise and into a grimy world much different from the one I already knew and yet. strikingly similar? Is it the day I came to terms with my unique situation and stopped acknowledging it as an elaborate dream that wouldn't end? Is it the day I received my letter?
When does the story start, exactly? I think it depends on where you look at it.
For some, my story begins when Callidora's does: brought into the world as the trees themselves began to die and rot, as the leaves turned brown and the gentle wildlife creatures begin to stock on food to survive the blistering cold almost upon them. Perhaps that is when the tale begins. In that cramped hospital room, surrounded by family I didn't know I had, blinking from awake from never ending death, shrieking my fears into the cold autumn air.
Maybe it begins with someone else? A young girl born on the other side of the world, on the other side of time, who lived inside blocks of plastic and yellowed paperback books. The one before Callidora with her puppet shows and grand pianos and fresh food in the pantry. It would make sense to start a story here: this is a story with a clear ending, so I can't get too confused about where to go with it.
How does it end, you say?
(Picture this: the rolling clouds split open as three teenagers are driving down a winding road at night. The car is alight with a warm, orange glow. They are so, so innocent.
Now picture a sharp corner in an area seemingly empty of foot traffic.
Imagine a hooded figure whose face is highlighted by their phone as they cross the road, earphones in. They do not look up until the car is too close to stop, until they're close enough that the three teenagers catch a glimpse of their face with their headlights, wide-eyed and terrified, before the car finally and futilely shrieks.
Imagine this: a snapping sound, a bloodied windscreen, the sound of the hood giving in as a body rolls off of it, a heavy thump as the hooded pedestrian hits the road.
Imagine: this body does not get up.)
— I - I don't think you need to know how it ends. I think all that matters is that it does. Surely. Inevitably.
Or maybe the story begins with green ink on parchment? Or with barking owls and tabby cats and a crimson red steam train? Perhaps it begins with ancient magicks embedded in crumbling bricks, or with a raggedy hat or red-gold ties; perhaps the story begins on Samhain, in a secluded village, in an invisible house, with a family of three-two-one.
You understand, don't you? The situation I am in? How pathetic it is for a writer to not know where a beginning is? For a writer to stare at a blank page and not have the urge to put their ink to it; for a writer to be afraid of endings; for a writer who doesn't have a story to tell?
… You do? Ha. Then you will forgive me, I hope, for fumbling with this. I've only ever written about other people's tales, you see, that I've never had the time to go out and live my own. I suppose it's fitting, then, that my story does not happen under the condition of life, but instead, death.
But your patience with me aside, I'm still unsure of where to start this.
… I suppose… Yeah, that – might actually work…
I think I know a beginning for you after all.
I died young. Sixteen.
It was Christmas holidays that rainy night and I'd been walking to the shops to buy some tampons. Discounting the way it ended, the rest of it was an ordinary day for me. I woke up in the afternoon, ate my breakfast with a side of anti-depressants, and then laid in my bed all day reading instead of answering the messages on my phone. I didn't go out much.
I had taken the Pottermore test, you know. Everyone did. I was a Hufflepuff, which I hadn't liked — never even heard of the house before, and, well, come on. Hufflepuff? Lame. But I grew to love it. I learned that it didn't matter if you were ambitious or smart or courageous — not really, not so long as you were kind. The world survived on compassion. There was nothing to be ashamed of in being kind.
I'm not that person anymore: I am quiet, and I am soft-spoken, and I am protective, but in my first life – in my first life, I had not lived enough with the harsh realities of the world to be truly angry at it. In this life, there is no way I could have possibly escaped it.
(I am tired in this life: tired and sick and a mouse living among snakes. I want to stop being afraid, but I can't—)
But the story doesn't start with my sorting. I'll start with something else.
Like – oh, I don't know. Maybe…
Maybe I do have an idea.
One of my earliest memories was this:
An arm pressed flush against my skinny neck.
It sounded brutal, but the presence of that arm around my neck was not a malicious one. My sister simply did not know how to hold a child as small as me and didn't have the time nor patience to learn when there was adventure to be found. I was braced against her chest, forearm pressed against my throat and another around my stomach, bouncing as I was carried down the stairs and outside into the garden.
My other two sisters raised their hands and shouted. The sister carrying me yelled back. I was plopped into the seat next to my eldest sister, a bit confused but nonetheless happy to be in their collective company.
The gardens we occupied were beautifully tended. The grass was always freshly cut, permeating a calming earthy scent into the air that mingled with the roses and the smoke bush and summer sweet shrubs. There was a marble gazebo in the shade of a flowering almond tree, fitted with a dancing floor and stone benches and tables on the rim to catch as much sunlight as possible. Our backyard was an open place filled with blooming flowers, and I knew there to be some wild snakes hidden in the trees.
The garden was my favourite part of my home, mostly because it didn't exactly… fit into what was expected of our family: all the colors, the white gazebo, the purple-shimmering snakes and the orange-scaled frill-necked lizards. Our mismatched bushes and random almond tree were not the decisions of a herbologist or a designer. They were selected by me and my sisters. We had planted pieces of ourselves here, dug our roots into the soil to remain long after we were gone. It was ours, in a way our darkened house couldn't ever be.
You know what?
Let me tell you about my sisters.
The eldest was Bella, and she'd just turned eleven years old so she was leaving for Hogwarts soon. At this age, she was all skin and bones, with the sharp and defined features of our mother that you could distinguish even with the fat of youth clinging to her cheeks. Bella had curly thick hair that she kept up in a mockery of a ponytail, for all the good it did her. Her brown eyes were often glinting with something, whether it was an idea or mischief or pleasure, and she grinned from ear-to-ear every time I flung a piece of my food across the room.
One year younger than Bella was Andy. Andy looked a lot like Bella, so much that people easily mistook them for twins, but I could always tell the difference between them: for one, Andy's eyes were a lighter shade of brown, closer to fire-whiskey than Bella's varnished mahogany, and her hair was tamer - less wild and thick. Andy also had a dimple in her left cheek that only appeared when she was truly quieter. Besides the obvious physical differences, Andy was also quieter. Softer.
(... which isn't to say that Bella's rough, but…)
I looked more like Cissy, although my hair was curly where hers was straight and my nose was flatter, and I couldn't forget the dimples! Cissy probably stood out the most of all of us (what with her blonde hair and all). Her eyes, however, were a stormy grey typical of our family, and we shared the pointy chin and prominent cheekbones. We looked more like Father.
My sisters were beautiful. When they were younger, I sometimes imagined that I might love them without reserve.
But my sisters were more than what I made of them.
"Dora," Cissy wrinkled her nose at me as soon as I sat down. "I thought you were sleeping."
At this age, she still steals my hair ribbons and cuts the hem of my cloak so it is asymmetrical, so we are not good friends. I can't blame her. It was hard to, when I was the one spitting my food in her hair and dragging her stockings through the mud. She had reasonably grounds to wrinkle her nose up at me.
"I woke up." I told her, crawling into Bella's lap. I forced my sister to wrap her arms around my front, which she did easily enough, digging her chin unnecessarily hard into the crown of my head. "Hi, Andy."
Andy smiled before reaching over the table and wiping her hand down my face. There was no obvious motive for this behaviour, except that maybe she felt like it, which would be par for the course. I sputtered and knocked her hand away. She just laughed. "Hey there, sleepy. You've been out nearly the entire day!"
"I was tired!"
"All you ever do is sleep!" Said Cissy, pouting, "You don't do anything exciting!"
"Cissy's upset because you don't play with her anymore," Bella whispered, purposefully loud enough for everyone to hear. I giggled.
Truthfully, as soon as my memories came in, I'd found it difficult to entertain Cissy. For all that I wasn't afraid to laugh and fling food across the table and roll around in the mud, games that would entertain a toddler didn't seem to appeal to me anymore. Considering how many toys I had, I'd been feeling quite guilty about that. I felt as though it was a waste of money and pretended to enjoy my toys in front of my parents and sisters, but really, I had been slowly withering away from boredom. It was why I slept so much.
Cissy shot Bella a scathing look even as her face heated up. "I do not! Bella, shut up!"
Cissy huffed. She knew better than to leap across the table and start a fight. Bella always won. "Whatever," She muttered, crossing her arms petulantly. "Poopy face."
"You're the poopy face."
"I am not! You're the poopy face. Poopy face, poopy face, poopy face!"
Bella was eleven years old. That meant she was considered by most of the world as someone mentally, magically, and emotionally mature enough to go to Hogwarts and learn magic. As soon as September 1 came around, she would be expected to hold herself with a measure of dignity and no small amount of prissiness. As was expected from someone of her station.
However, it was decidedly not the first of September — and while Bella was pretty mature for her age, there was something to be said about how many times one could sit and silently endure being called a 'poopy face' by an eight year old before something inside of them snapped.
I wasn't surprised to be pushed off her lap only seconds before she leaped across the table to grab at Cissy's hair. "You're the poopy head, poopy head! Shut up!"
Cissy, being Cissy, continued chanting, "Poopy head, poopy head, poopy head!" even as she shrieked in pain.
Andy was watching them with a laugh and threat to tattle stuck in her throat. She didn't look like she wanted them to keep on fighting. She didn't look like she wanted to physically pull Bella off Cissy either, though. It put her in a spot of trouble. Eventually, she made a decision.
"Bella, don't be such a tart."
It just so happened her decision was a combination of both choices.
Bella turned on Andy instantly, a fire in her eyes. It was not so surprising when she manoeuvred herself so that she could grab a fistful of Andy's hair as well. I watched them, unsurprised and worried but unwilling to risk my own hair. It didn't take long at all for Cissy's half-laugh half-protests to dissolve into one-hundred-percent pain. Andy's amusement to morphed into rage not too long after.
It was always like this with them. Cissy never knew when to shut up, Bella snapped and got violent, Andy jumped in and ended up getting herself hurt, and I was left to watch them scratch at each other.
Tensions were always high in this family, even when we were all at our most affable.
I was fond of my sisters, but I knew who they would all grow up to be. I was under no illusions about them.
I watched them fight passively and only opened my mouth to scream when Cissy began to cry.
I'm a Black sister.
The youngest one, Callidora Lysandra Black III, to be precise: Sixth in line for the Regency of Black, fifteenth in line for the Rosier house, forty-seventh in line for the Crabbe house. My mother is Druella Rosier . She's a bit of a… handful. My father is Cygnus Black. He's rarely around, and that's probably for the best. I have three older sisters by the names of Bellatrix Druella, Andromeda Violetta, and Narcissa Carina.
I am a proud member of the Ancient and Noble House of Black.
I am a pure-blood.
I will live up to my family's prestigious name.
I will blah blah blah –
You get the point.
There are expectations when you're a Black, which I'm sure comes as no surprise. When I was younger, I had tried protesting their behaviour. Naively tried my hand at rebellion and such, trying to appeal for the 'mudbloods' and 'half-breeds', but...
Well, let's just say that Mother hadn't liked it much when I did that. It didn't take me long to shut up after the personal lesson she gave me.
I'm a lot quieter about that these days.
Even before my memories came in, I knew that my parents weren't good parents. Druella is very obviously not a nice woman. From what I know of her — and trust me, I know a lot about her — if I had to choose between being on the wrong side of her fists or a quick Avada Kedavra, I'd choose the green one.
Our house elves are our primary caretakers. A bulbous-nosed, elephant-eared, hideous-as-a-gargoyle house elf by the name of Kritter is a prominent figure. She's an angry one, all grouchy and patriotic. However, for all that she yells and snipes and snaps her tea towel at us, she hasn't actually hit me or my sisters. When I was young enough to need it, she used to tuck me in and sneak food in my room. She's certainly better than Mother.
My earliest memory is her face, you know. Seeing her profile set against the full moon coming in from my window. I had been petrified of werewolves that night after the lesson I was given on how savage they were. Kritter had kept me company until I'd fallen asleep out of pure exhaustion. She was still there when I woke up too – nodding off to sleep, yes, but vigilant at the end of my bed despite that.
Kritter's probably the closest thing I have to a real mum in this life. I'm quite protective over her, truthfully, and Bella knows the rules with Kritter. No one is allowed to hurt her now that I'm around.
Being a Black, it's hard to be a good person. It's sort of like everyone is working against you whenever you try. Every time I tried to stand taller someone would reach over and hammer me back into my place.
Muggleborns? Deserving a brutal, torturous death for simply existing. Werewolves? Savage, mindless brutes who would sooner ravage your corpse than sit for tea, silly girl. Vampires? What, those blood-sucking leeches? Centaurs? Filthy half-breeds, just as bad as trolls and giants if you're asking me. Half-bloods? There is only one thing more disgusting than a wizard willingly consorting with non-magical filth, and it's that they have the right to reproduce.
If I hadn't been the abnormality that I am, I would have fallen to the prejudice a very long time ago. Even Andy, who is gentle and reads books about Herbology in the candlelight until the moon has replaced the sun in the sky, has not been able to escape the ideals. Every time she says that wretched M-word in casual conversation, I can't help but flinch. From Cissy and Bella I expect it. From Andy, it is an unpleasant shock every time it comes out of her mouth. Is that unfair of me to hold against her?
Perhaps it is.
Regardless, I find myself expecting better from Andy every time she perpetrates the prejudice. I think she feels that I disapprove.
While I stubbornly continue to treat muggleborns and magical creatures with the respect that they are due, I am careful to keep quiet around Mother with these views. If there is one thing that you learn in any pure-blood household, it is self-preservation. Eventually, you learn the difference between bravery and stupidity, and it isn't a lesson one particularly keens to revisit again. I, for one, will be happy to never go through it again. That is rather the point, I expect – the fear, that is. To be afraid of growing.
The thing with abusers is that they never want you to be better than them, because that's when they lose their control over you.
It'd be a lie to say that I am the same quiet introspective teenage girl. The teen with too much passionate pressing against her breast, who breathed compassion like it was air, is dead. She died a long time ago. As it is, it's too idealistic to hope for me to be that person again. It's unrealistic to hope for any sort of freely given kindness in any of the Black sisters. Most of the time, being aware of manipulation doesn't mean you can avoid it's effect.
Or maybe I'm as soft-spined as any other wretched pure-blood in this society.
At this point, I'm not the right sort of person to be worthy of judging the strength of someone's character.
Perhaps the most important thing for you to know about me is this:
I am a writer.
If there is one thing you ever need to know about any writer, it is that they get to choose the angle in which you view them. Most choose the angle that shines them in the best light: the flattering light, the sympathetic light, the kindest light.
There's no point of me trying to pull that one over you. You know how the Black family can be and we've already established that I'm not the strongest person. My mind is weak – it's always been weak. I'm the type of person to cave in on themselves for the benefit of others. Would two wolves fight over my dying body, my main concern would be to whom I would offer the choicest meat. I am a prey animal, born afraid.
Throwing me in the middle of the Black family during the Dark Lord's glory days was the certain, crushing, inevitably defeat of my will. There has never been any doubt about it.
So I suppose the answer to your question is… complicated.
Do I love my family, even after all that they have done to me? Yes, certainly.
Why, you ask?
I'm not sure, to be honest. I can't explain it – some emotions and desires simply cannot be put into words that we will all understand. It's different for everyone. Why do we breathe air? Because we deserve to? Because we will die if we don't. Why do we bleed? Because sometimes it is the only thing for our body to do in the absence of every other option. Why do I continue to defend my sisters to the point of even my own destruction? Because I am deluding myself, and I know that I am deluding myself, but I cannot find the strength in me to stop.
… Well, I never said we were a pretty family, now did I? The Black's have a long-reaching history of mental instability. You should count yourself lucky that depression is the only chemical-imbalance in my brain that'll ever reach full maturity.
That disappoints you, right? That I'm not Light and that I'm not Dark? People like nice square boxes, after all. I don't like labels all that much myself, but I understand the obsession with them; how much easier on our minds it is, to see one side of a person and assume that infinitesimal part of them is all of them.
Never seen the appeal of that myself.
If I had to choose a favourite cousin, it'd be Evan. He was in his sixth year of Hogwarts and I didn't see him much. It's probably why I liked him so much. Never saw much of him in the first place to be honest, but I had blurry memories of him. To me, he always seemed like a boy with a sharp tongue who preferred books to people. Whenever I used to visit the Rosier house, he would put me in his lap and read to me.
Needless to say, Sirius had no interest in that.
However, in the absence of Evan, and with the survival instinct to avoid Hesper, I didn't really have a choice at this point. I sat next to Sirius during afternoon tea. It was an uncomfortably silent affair. Being the same age, we were often forced upon each other while they 'grown ups' discussed business. My sisters grouped together in another part of the house – usually very far away from Sirius – and as much as I wanted to join them, that left Sirius unattended.
(I don't know if you know this, but 'Sirius' and 'unattended' are not words that you want in the same sentence.)
After the last time I abandoned him for Bella's company and he had savagely torn into our tea sets in retaliation, I'd been told to keep him company "or else".
So we sat and drank our tea.
Sirius observed me with blank grey eyes. His knee was jumping under the table. His eyes flickered around the room with enough speed to make me dizzy. If he hadn't already, he was obviously reaching the end of his patience. Silly boy. Had no head for subtlety at all.
"Do you wanna play?"
I picked up a biscuit. "No."
Sirius frowned. "Why not? I'm bored."
"I don't want to play with you."
That made him groan like I had grievously insulted him. "You never want to play with me. You're boring."
"That's not a nice thing to say about yourself, Sirius."
He paused, and it struck me that I might have been the first person to ever make a pun out of his name. He smiled like someone's stuck their thumbs in the corners of his mouth and pulled. It was kind of deranged, actually. "I get it," He said, "'Serious' and 'Sirius' are the same sounding. How did you figure that out, Dora?"
Instead of answering, I frowned at him. "Don't call me Dora."
"Stop calling me that."
"I said stop, Sirius."
"I'm being serious now, st — "
"No, I'm Sirius!" Sirius jumped in. And then he started laughing. The attention span of children was never any less confusing, no matter how exposed to it you were. "Get it? Get it? Dora, do you get it?"
My lips pinched. "I told you to stop calling me that."
Sirius wrinkled his nose. "Bella and Cissy and 'Dromeda call you that."
"They're my sisters!"
"But I'm your cousin!"
"Exactly, so stop calling me Dora!"
"Then what am I supposed to call you? Callidora?" His tone communicated perfectly about how he felt about that option.
"Yes." I huffed. "That's my name. I bet you wouldn't like it if I called you 'Siri'."
Sirius tilted his head in careful deliberation. "It isn't a bad name," He declared gravely, slamming his hands on the table. "I'll let you call me that if I can keep calling you Dora!"
One of the reasons me and Sirius didn't get along was that he was too loud. He spoke over me all the time. I was also sure that he didn't like me as much as I didn't like him, so I was tempted to believe his infuriating behaviour was just to piss me off. That might have been giving him too much credit. Sirius in general grates on my nerves, purposefully or not.
Giving me a look that reminds me too much of Bella, he said, "Or would you prefer 'Cal' as a nickname?"
I choked on my tea at this. "NO." I didn't like being called 'Cal' even less than I like being called 'Dora', and Sirius knew it too. We'd been through this conversation too many times for him not to. "What is your problem? Just drop it! Callidora, call me Callidora!"
"You're too boring and crappy and dumb," Sirius said, sticking his tongue out, "You're better when you're not being an old lady. No offense. I'm going to call you 'Cal' until you stop being boring. And when you start being a little fun, I'll start calling you 'Dora'. You only get to have your full name back when you're cool!"
I let that sink in for a moment.
And then, because I had just as short a temper as any other Black in the family: "I hate you. You're my least favourite cousin."
Sirius pouted, then said, "You too, Cal. You too."
Living with the people I live with isn't exactly… kind to ones psyche. I guess if you're listening this story looking for a saviour born twenty-one years early… then you're in the wrong place; I am no man of action. I am barely a man. I have no strength or battle talent or a head for tactics.
I would make a terrible hero.
But you know what?
I survive. That's what I do. I survive. Somehow, I always do.
And speaking from experience, I can tell you that having the ability to survive is better than being a brave fool.
At least when you're a survivor, you're alive to hate yourself. The dead don't have that privilege.
"How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself."
Title: fish hooks in the corners of their mouths
Category: Books » Harry Potter
Language: English, Rating: Rated: T
Summary: "Monachopsis: The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place." ... Not entirely accurate, but it'll do for describing the situation. People swallow that explanation easier than: 'I died once, but it's okay! I got better!' [SI OC, Black!OC, Marauders Era]
Dedication: To billy, who is very important always.
fish hooks in the corners of their mouths
when my voice trembles
Fun fact about myself that I didn't know until five minutes ago: As of two days ago, I was a betrothed girl.
Aunt Walburga settled the situation of breeding a few days ago, but the contracts had all been written up, finalized and signed by all of the regents involved, so I was only informed now. All of the sisters were at the same time; sitting together on one couch, thigh against thigh, knobbly knee against knobbly knee, as a father who barely involved himself in our life moulds it to his advantage.
Bellatrix and Andromeda took the news as was expected of us. Narcissa, however, was rather put out.
"Married?" She whined. "But I'm only nine, Father. I can't get married."
Also: hello, timeskip. It's been a while. (Two years, to be exact.)
Cygnus adjusted the glasses perched on his nose. Grey eyes like my own glinted from behind the spectacles. I looked in his face and recognized myself in his chin, in his nose, in his crooked pinkie finger. Those were my slanted eyes. Those were my dimples. That was the pigment of my skin. The patronizing look he sent Narcissa for her question was one I had seen on Andromeda's face. This familiar stranger sprawled lazily on the couch like a king, smoking in his cashmere robes, was my father. There was no denying that.
And still, I searched for discrepancies.
"Not legally, no, but you might as well consider yourself sworn to your fiancée for all the freedom you'll have," Cygnus tapped his cigarette. The ashes fell into the crystal ashtray waiting beneath his hand. Narcissa looked confused. "It's done, Narcissa. Finished. There's nothing for you to do about it. Besides, you should be honoured."
"Honoured?" Said Narcissa. "Why?"
"The Malfoy's are a noble line. Their blood will bring much prestige and power to the future generation of Black children."
"Children?" Narcissa squawked, looking nauseous. "Father, I haven't even met him. How do I know if I love him if I haven't met him?"
Oh no, I thought.
Bellatrix must have been thinking it too, because she buried her elbow in Narcissa's ribs, flat brown eyes jumping to life with alarm. Her voice came out as a hiss. "Cissy!"
Narcissa looked harassed and affronted. She turned to Bellatrix and ducked her head, whispering a defensive, "What?"
Bellatrix sent a fearful glance in Cygnus' direction before saying to Narcissa, quieter and reproachful this time, "You mustn't – "
"I mustn't what?"
But it was already much too late.
Cygnus had straightened up from his sprawl, and now sat perched on the edge of the navy couch attentively. He breaced himself with his elbows on his knees, wrists hanging limply. The ember at the end of his cigarette ate away at the tobacco, sloth-like. There was no inflection on his face or in his voice when he asked, "Love?"
Narcissa opened her mouth to answer and was interrupted. Bellatrix had driven her elbow into her ribs again, her eyes locked on Cygnus. She scrambled to say. "She didn't mean anything by it, Father. She was just – "
"Quiet, Bellatrix. I'm talking to your sister." Cygnus said coolly. His voice was smooth and slippery. There was a hint of danger lurking beneath it. Bellatrix's mouth snapped shut. Turning back to Narcissa, Cygnus asked again: "Love? Explain that to me, if you please. I'm quite curious as to how you were introduced to the concept."
Narcissa hands clenched in the lace of her skirt. For a moment, she looked rightfully cautious, staring at Cygnus from under her lashes as if expecting a reprimand. When Cygnus smiled thinly and gestured with the hand not holding his cigarette, she blinked rapidly, cheeks ripening. "Well… there are books about it, aren't there, Father? In the library. About – about wizards who save witches from half-breeds and dragons and horrible curses with the power of – of true love."
"Is that so?"
"Uh-huh. Things like… true love's kiss, and… and happy endings at the end of the war. When the boy and girl marry at the end of the book, and everyone is happy and hopeful, and the bad guy always loses."
"Those kind of books are where you learned it?"
Cygnus hummed. "You like to read, do you?"
Narcissa shrugged. Andromeda was staring intently at her lap, sending short, unreadable looks at Narcissa from the corner of her eyes. Bellatrix had closed her eyes. I was the only one without an acceptable poker face. To hide the horror on my face, I tried to hide it by turning away from everyone, taking advantage of my position at the end of the sofa.
"I don't mind it when it's a good book." Said Cissy, enthusiasm growing.
"And what do you classify as a good book, hm? The ones where the underdog triumphs? Where dark and light struggle for dominance, and the light side wins? Stories of naïve, arrogant children who feel wronged by the ministry and fight for the collective 'good' of everyone?" Cygnus smiled at us. "Are those the type of stories you enjoy, Narcissa?"
"Yes, Father!" Narcissa said, relaxed and happy with this perceived mutual understanding. "I find them quite enjoyable!"
"What about Liesel Domnauer. Did you like her story?"
I tensed at the question. I had read the book 'Bunkers'. Everyone had. It was a very popular autobiography, after all. As far as I could tell, Liesel Domnauer was the wizarding equivalent of Anne Frank.
Domnauer was one of the many witches caught in Germany about twenty years ago during the war, forced to fend off attacks from muggles and wizards alike who hoping to drive her people to extinction for the circumstances of their blood and religion. She'd kept a diary during the event, wrote down everything that happened to her before, during and after the war. She spared no detail about her journey, was proud of her status as a survivor of prejudice, and remained an inspiration to a lot of people to this day.
Still, her renown wasn't gained without struggle. The book was barred from publication for years; no one was willing to put their names behind a book that named and slandered many of the Twenty Eight– even if we all knew what she was writing was true. Of course, once it managed to find an independent publishing company unafraid of the Twenty Eight, 'Bunkers' was flying from shelves. It was one of those books that everyone had but no one admitted to having. Unless you were a part of a pureblood house like I was. Then you weren't allowed to even think about the book, not even under the pain of death.
I had a copy under my mattress.
"Liesel Domnauer?" Narcissa stumbled over the name. "I've never heard of her, Father. Is she a book?" She turned to Andromeda, who flinched at the attention. "Andy? Do you know who she is?" Andromeda mutely shook her head. "Andy?"
"Why are you asking Andromeda?" Asked Cygnus.
"Because Andy is the one who reads to me all these stories." Said Cissy.
That put Andromeda in the spotlight, and we all knew it. Somehow managing to fold even more into herself, Andromeda looked as small as she ever had under Cygnus' gaze, a harmless and insignificant thing. "You read such drivel to your little sister, do you, Andromeda?" Andromeda didn't answer. Cygnus did not waste another moment – he lashed out with his free hand and brought it down on the table between us. Hard. It was an explosion in the silence. None of us flinched as hard as Andromeda did. "Andromeda?"
Andromeda wet her lips. She opened her mouth. Closed it. Breathed in. Nodded twice.
"What about Liesel Domnauer? Do you read that?"
Andromeda shook her head emphatically. I thought of the copy underneath my mattress, between the foam and the metal wiring of my frame, and then banished the thought. I tried to focus on the current conversation, but Cygnus was quiet, drawing out the tension. His grey eyes were unrelentingly intense on Andromeda's frozen form. He was waiting for something that we all knew Andromeda wouldn't give him. The expectation swelled in the space between us, heavy and foreboding. I made a conscious effort not to tune out, not to daydream, not to blink out of my body and focus on easier things like my mind was subconsciously trying to, but it was hard.
"I wish you would talk to me, Andromeda." Cygnus said.
Andromeda bowed her head.
That must be what sets him off.
I was not too certain myself, honestly, but her continued silence had to be the thing that pushed him over the line. Because there was no warning. There was just – a twinge in the atmosphere around us, the type that makes your hair stand up; that made us think, please, not again; then there was a wand; and then a familiar looking curse thrown over our heads that collided with the wall at our backs.
We screamed as we threw ourselves to the floor.
I knew without looking that there was a black mark where Andromeda's head used to be – perhaps a centimetre or two above it – but I looked anyway, simply to confirm it. Simply to remind myself.
I had my cheek smashed against the carpet with the left side of Narcissa's torso pressing against my back with the weight of three. Narcissa's breath puffed against my ear. As usual, she had thrown herself on top of me. There was a hand resting on the back of my skull, pushing it down and away from Cygnus, leaving me to stare at his shoes. I knew those hands to be Andromeda's: she had thrown herself over Narcissa and I. Familiar arms bracketed the dog pile we had made of ourselves, acting as the shell that protected the underbelly.
Of course, Bellatrix had thrown herself over all of three of us.
Look at us, I thought dazedly, like a little Russian doll.
Cygnus sighed and removed his glasses to rub at the bridge of his nose.
I swallowed to wet my parched mouth. It didn't help.
He placed his glasses back and leaned back in his chair. The ash at the end of his cigarette had grown heavy enough that it collapsed at the slightest twitch of his fingers. As we lay there, trembling and waiting, he took a long drag of his cigarette and blew his poison into the air. He stared up at the ceiling listlessly for a minute. It felt like an hour.
When he spoke, it was to blandly congratulate us. "Impressive reflexes."
Bellatrix was on her feet in an instant. There was a fire in her eyes, a hatred that burnt away at all common sense. "You could have hurt her!"
Narcissa squirmed. Andromeda got up and pulled us up with her so we were sitting, crouched, behind the coffee table, watching and waiting.
"I knew you'd dodge."
"I know that spell, it's a curse — you could have — could have hurt her — she's only twelve — "
Cygnus rolled his eyes. "Don't be so dramatic, Bella. None of you were even touched. Besides, you of all people know the benefits of the proper application of pain." He raised an eyebrow. "Flint tells me of your dealings in the castle, Bella. I know of your lessons. What makes this any different from those, I wonder?"
"It's different, we could have been – "
"But you weren't," Cygnus cut in sharply before visibly smoothing the sharp edges of his tone. "You weren't hurt, were you? Were you?" Bellatrix was silent, her face a twisted mess of complicated emotions.
At the sight of her, Cygnus sighed mournfully. He situated himself in front of Bellatrix and placed a warm hand on her head. "All I'm doing is reminding you which one of us makes the rules in this house and which one of us is meant to follow them."
Bellatrix still looked doubtful.
"Come, girls. It's not like I held you under the Cruciatus Curse." He spoke softly, and kindly, and Bellatrix's face twitched.
There was a moment that passes in which all four of us were thinking about it — that terrible never ending pain. My bones were not aching in this instant. There were no phantom blades flaying my flesh, no white hot fire pokers or imaginary flames licking at my psyche. My skin was unmarred. My throat was wet and not raw from screaming. I was healthy. I looked at Andromeda: she was unblemished, save for the tear tracks drying on her face.
We are lucky.
There was a heavy silence as we all stewed in our shame.
"I'm exhausted now, thanks to you girls. Your mad ramblings have drained me of all my energy: all your talk of true love and that forsaken book." Here, Narcissa and Andromeda winced.
Cygnus continued grandly. "As if the negotiations of marriage contracts weren't enough, you then had to go and make me mad, force my hand, and then act like I'm evil for it. Other people would call that ungrateful. After all, I do feed you, clothe you, put a roof over your head…" He trailed off at our faces — Narcissa, at least, was tearing up, while Andromeda looks completely and utterly ashamed of herself.
Cygnus sighed again. He opened his arms benevolently. Without wasting another second, we fell into him gratefully. After a long moment during which we all soaked in his warmth and he comforted us with his mere presence, he eventually whispered, "Do not think that I don't understand your behaviour. An arranged marriage can be difficult to understand at your age, I know it took me a long time to come to terms with my marriage to your mother... Do you not think this is hard for me as well?"
"What do you mean?" I said into his shirt. "How is this hard for you?"
"It's hard," he stroke my head, "because my own children don't trust that I have the best interests for this family in mind. It's hard because my own children do not even trust their father. It hurts me. Do you even love me, I wonder?"
Andromeda twitched. Bellatrix reared back to look at our father's face, her own jaw agape. "Of course we love you, Father!"
"Then why do you insist on rebelling?"
"We don't – "
"We don't mean to, it's just – "
"I'm sorry for hurting your feelings, Father. I'll never do it again, I promise, so please don't be mad anymore – "
"We'll listen! We know now!"
"We love you! Lots and lots and lots —"
Cygnus released us from our group hug and raised his hands, "Now, now, that's enough, girls. You're getting to be too rowdy, it's giving me a headache." We all shut up instantly, staring up at him attentively. There was a slow curving starting at the corners of his lips, satisfied and swelling, that he covered with a cough. "So you'll stop questioning me, is that what you're saying? There are tough times ahead… challengers, resistances, the rise of lords approaching… I will need your obedience."
"We won't do it again," Bellatrix swore, "Forgive me for forgetting my place today, Father. We're on your side. Of course we are, all of us. I'm sorry my actions today made you doubt that."
"And me," Said Narcissa.
"And me," Andromeda whispered.
Cygnus nodded and raised his hand again. I didn't know whether he would stroke my hair or strike me, and tensed in waiting, but all he did was bring his nub of a cigarette to his lips and suck in whatever was left of the tobacco. "I suppose I understand. You will inevitably anger me again but… for now… I love you, girls."
And although in this instant we all parroted back, "I love you more!" to our father, later –
Later, I would look back on this conversation, and my heart clenched painfully, like two strings of a coin purse pulled tight, and I would remember: the shame, the fear, the black mark on the wall.
I would remember, and I hated him.
(And it will be futile because I never remembered to hate him when I am sat in front of him. The cycle began again.)
I was intended to marry one of the Carrow kids. Don't ask me what one, I don't even remember. I'm sure I mentioned it above – the way I tend to daydream when my parents discuss serious business with me. I'm sure my fiancée's name doesn't matter. Regardless of it, he's sure to be as boorish, self-involved and arrogant as I believe him to be.
Don't think me unkind, now. You don't know pure-blood politics like I do. I know the roots of the Carrow family. I have sat at their table and feasted on their freely given meats and herbs beside Amycus, I have danced in their gardens under the moonlight with Alecto, painted proof of my existence over their walls in crayon. I know the Carrow family in ways you will never, could never, and I have a unique perspective into the way that they raise their children.
Well, okay then, if that's what you want to hear. It's nothing grand or romantic, so I'm not sure what you're fishing for but since you asked nicely, it'd be rude if I refused you.
I'll tell you how we met. …Though the person I met that day who would go on to impact my life wasn't my betrothed. I have to warn you of that. If you're looking for an epic romance that began that day in autumn, you're not going to find it.
Instead, you'll learn how I, Callidora Black III, met Pandora Travers.
The first time I ever saw the boy I was to marry, it's nothing memorable.
Sirius lowered his arm from when he pointed the boy out and harrumphs. "There he is — Archeron Carrow. Nothing special, yeah?" My cousin confided, unknowingly telling me what I was already thinking, whispering to me as if we were friends. I barely tolerated his shoulder pressed against mine. "Bit mental, of course, but all of the Carrow's are. You're lucky he's the one you're stuck with."
I sent him a sidelong glance. "I'm lucky?"
"Not as lucky as me," Sirius — who is not shouldering a betrothal contract as of yet — presses a modest hand to his chest, grinning proudly. "But whatever. You wanted to see him. You saw him. I'm going to hang out with Longbottom."
"Leave Frank alone." I said without much heat. "He doesn't need you slobbering on him on his own birthday."
"Heirs need to stick together, it's the golden rule. I'll be seeing you later."
"For dinner. Mother has somehow managed to convince Uncle Alphard and Uncle Cygnus that the family needs to come together tonight. My place. It'll be a feast fit for the Minister himself. We'll have the heads watching over us and everything."
I sighed. "The joys of family."
Sirius clicked his tongue and flicked my ponytail. "Well... I'm off." He said, walking away without another word. I harrumph in reply and go back to my mournful staring at Acheron Carrow.
I didn't like him.
Acheron Carrow was a terror, that much was already obvious, even from a distance, but we already knew that going in, didn't we?
From where I was sitting when I first laid my eyes on him, he was crouched next to his brother pouring a jug over an ant hill beneath a dying tree; a leaf fell and spiralled downwards from its branch, landed on his head. He was going to grow up to be an ugly adult. I wasn't excited.
Fortunately, I also wasn't allowed the opportunity to dwell on the thoughts for very long. Suddenly, there was a hand wrapping around my elbow that snagged my attention. I subconsciously catalogued her grip – deferring and uncertain. Her fingers flexed constantly around my arm. Nothing at all like my family's confident, almost abrasive, grip. I knew then that I was not related to whoever was touching me. A guest of Longbottom's, I assumed. Perhaps a curious half-blood?
When I turned to address the girl, I was met with green-grey eyes that, to this day, remain singularly unique. The girl had platinum blond hair slicked back into a fancy bun. She was either my age or a year older, and was outfitted with a pointy nose and chin, with thin lips and prominent cheekbones to top it off. Her facial structure was a familiar one, but I couldn't put a name to her face at all.
She seemed like a soft person, was my first impression. A half-blood, I decided, or the daughter of a disowned pureblood.
And then she spoke, and I tasted stars in the back of my throat.
"Hello," She greeted softly, silvery and mystical. "You've been staring at nothing for quite a while now. Are you alright?"
I blinked at the question, still caught on the musical cadence of her voice. Why did I sound like that? "What?"
"You've been daydreaming," The girl said, before following my line of sight. She saw Acheron and his brother chortling over the drowning ants and crinkles her pale eyebrows. "Or not. You're freaking out some of the others a bit. Are you okay?"
I got myself under control and cleared my throat. I refused to be embarrassed. It wasn't like anyone would remember my daydreaming by the end of the party. A child's attention span wasn't anything impressive. Still, with the girl's concerned attention on me, I wanted nothing more than for the earth to open up and swallow me whole.
"I'm fine." I told her, voice just as quiet as her own. Her fingers were twitching again. I didn't know if it was because she was restless, bored, or concerned. Her face was unreadable. It made me rethink my position on her blood status. "Lost in my thoughts. Sorry for the concern…?"
Her green-grey eyes twinkled a bit. "We've met."
"I'm Pandora Travers," She said, sticking her hand out. I was momentarily appalled with her manners. As a Black, the only pureblood allowed to introduce themselves before me was either Sirius or Regulus. Hierarchy, you know? But the girl—Pandora—didn't seem to care about that at all. I let out a startled laugh. "Daughter of Endymion and Selene Travers née Malfoy. Lord Travers is my granddad. Lord Malfoy is my grand…uncle?" She shrugged. "Merry met!"
"Callidora Black the Third, youngest child of Cygnus Black and Druella Black née Rosier, niece to the honorable Lord and Lady Black, proud member of the Ancient and Noble House of Black. Merry meet." I said dully, mechanically, following quickly with: "Did… did you say Lord Abraxas Malfoy?"
Pandora grinned. "Yup! I'm not the heir — that's Lucius, he's my cousin— but me and Grandfather are friends. Have you met him?"
"I have been acquainted with Lord Malfoy. He's an intimidating character, to be sure." Lucius Malfoy's cousin?
"No, he's really not." Pandora seemed bemused. "It's nice that you're saying so, but there's no need for lying when it is just the two of us. My Lord is a boring old man. Everyone knows it."
Grandniece, did she say? Did that mean… her grandfather was Abraxas Malfoy's brother? Younger, obviously, otherwise he or his spawn would be occupying the position as paterfamilias for the Malfoy's. So Lucius' cousin, maybe-Draco's maybe-Aunt who was never mentioned in the series. Did that mean she and Lucius were not close, or that they grew apart during the war? Was this a character who died? Or were Rowling's tales not as accurate as I believed them to be?
That was a frightening concept.
"You do not need to be in your prime to strike a respectable figure. I can see that you don't much care for the posturing though. I'll speak plainly if you prefer."
"That would be nice, sure. You're using a lot of big words that I haven't heard from Mother." She'd hitched her eyebrows into her hairline again. "I've lost you."
"You're daydreaming again. I can see it in your eyes. Am I annoying you?" She followed my gaze, not realizing that my interest was completely inward. "... Do you fancy one of the Carrow brothers? You haven't taken your eyes off the little one."
"We are betrothed."
"Yeah? To Acheron?" I nodded, thinking about the family tree. Am I talking to a little girl doomed to die, I wonder? Is there any way for me to tell? "Apparently, he's gonna be real pretty when he's older. My granduncle told me so."
I shrugged. "That's nice, I suppose. I don't care much for looks."
"Well, if you want a nice husband, you should look somewhere else, too. Acheron is a mean boy. So is his brother, Hector."
"All of the Carrow's are," I reminded her. "This doesn't particularly surprise me."
Pandora giggled. I realized she has not removed her hand from my elbow. "I didn't think someone from a house like yours would say things like that," She confided her amusement with me, eyes sparkling. "How odd."
"Don't tell anyone of my oddness." I said, almost amused just because she was.
"Oh, no, no, of course not! I like oddness myself, you see, so I won't dob you in. Be as queer as you like!" My mouth twitched. Pandora's enthusiasm grew in response, "Oddness is what makes things fun! If we aren't a bit off then our minds get slow and bad. Oddity is good! It keeps us alive, didn't you know?"
Her eagerness was surprisingly endearing. "Like mutating to avoid natural selection," I mused.
Pandora blinked. "Huh?" Before I could think of a way to explain myself, she smiled and shook her head. "No, it's okay. I don't mind not getting it. Oddities!"
I had to ask. "What house do you think you'll be in when it comes to Hogwarts, Pandora?"
Pandora didn't hesitate. "Ravenclaw, for sure."
I hummed. "I can see that," I told her, and I wasn't not lying.
It was easy to imagine Pandora in black robes with bronze-blue hems and ties. She'd wear her oddities and uniform proudly, flaunt her eccentricities without an ounce of guilt, with her straggly blonde hair tied back with her own wand; just herself being herself in the silence of the castle. Perhaps she would be a sleepwalker, with a mind that never rested? I couldn't see Pandora as a typical quiet, studious guardian of knowledge. A child of the stars, yes; bare-footed, walking through the forest in winter, with her wand twisting her hair in a knot and her radish earrings catching the dim light shining through the canopy of the for—
Wait, radish earrings—?
I blinked at Pandora. Her earrings weren't pierced at all. So where did that thought some from?
Pandora peers at me and hums lowly. "You get lost inside your own head quite a bit don't you, Callidora?" She mumbles. "Oh, oh! I've got your attention now, haven't I? I'm sorry for speaking. I can see the thought growing smaller in your eyes."
Why does that…
"It's nothing," I murmured to Pandora. "Tired, 's all. Forgive my rudeness."
"It's fine," She smiled. "I think I've found a friend in you, Callidora. If... you don't mind me saying, of course."
… so familiar… what is it about her that seems so—
"You're nice." I told her, almost sounding accusing. "And I'm not sure why but I'll figure it out."
Pandora blinked. I still could not pin down what was so familiar about her and her behaviour, but I was prepared to stew in it until I figured it out. Her smile grew, almost bashful. "Okay." She used the hand still wrapped around my elbow to pull me towards the banquet table. "Do you like chocolate frogs, Cal? Can I call you Cal?"
In response to her question, I replied, "I love them."
Pandora grinned toothily. "I think we'll do just fine together, Callidora!"
… Yeah. Pandora Travers slipped under my skin like a splinter and refused to leave after that. Fine by me, we take to each other like we were always meant to be friends. It's an easy relationship. Besides, she's not even the weirdest part of my summer holiday that year.
No, that would be Iola.
(And by weirdest I mean, of course, 'distressing' and 'life-changing' and 'ohshitwe'regonnadie'.
All the fun stuff.)
I was messing around in the garden when the owl from Uncle Alphard arrived. Hesper trotted into the greenhouse where I laboured away and unceremoniously emptied a potted plant over my head.
"Lady Black calls for the children in the main room, Callidora. Better clean yourself." She announced, before turning on her heel and trotting back out.
I watched her go as I combed the damp soil from my hair. "Just because she's going to Hogwarts now…" I grumbled to myself, brushing myself off. There was soil stuck underneath my fingernails and I stank like dirt. I'd have to freshen up quickly if I wanted to present myself to Aunt Walburga.
Unfortunately, I passed Sirius on my way to the bathroom. He wrinkled his nose at me and yanked on my robes when I flew past him, pulling me back in front of him. I scowled even harder. Sirius hardly made me any more amiable. Neither did he make up for it. It was all annoyance and no reward. "Cal! You're looking ripe."
"Don't call me that. And also: was that a poor attempt at a Herbology joke?"
"Poor, was it? I know you want to laugh."
"At you, perhaps. Never with you."
"Ouch." Sirius plucked a clump of soil from my hair. "What's with you and the garden lately? Only Hufflepuffs need that rubbish. Unless…"
"Don't even start." I shoved him, cutting off the sure to be dramatic diatribe he was about to indulge himself with. "I like gardening. It's relaxing."
"It's servant work."
"What, are the gnomes your only friends?" Sirius sneered. I considered sneering back. Thankfully, I restrained the urge. "You could at least get into sewing like Aunt Druella's been wanting you to while you're indulging this bizarre phase of yours. I wouldn't mind a new quilt to sit at the end of my bed — I swear, Kreacher did something to the one I have now."
"Hideous thing hates me. Can't imagine why." Sirius flicked his hair back. I was amused despite myself. "He's made it scratchier, I tell you."
"Or maybe you're just a paranoid weirdo?" I suggested, before shrugging. "Ask me if I care."
"I would, but I don't wanna know. Buuuuut… there is a question I wouldn't mind you answering since you're taking them and all. Why are you working in the gardens lately?" He cut me off when I opened my mouth. "And don't say that it's 'relaxing' or whatever it is you're citing these days. I know you're lying."
"You do, do you."
"I do. You've never relaxed a day in your life — I doubt a sweet flower bush is going to get the job done."
"So since I don't fit into your limited perception of me there has to be an ulterior motive for my favourite hobby apart from the fact that I simply like to garden, right?"
Sirius nodded. "Yes." He said, as though saying 'duh'. Humility, as always, did not become him. "You can tell me. I won't nark." He wouldn't, it's true, but the principal of the matter was that I couldn't trust a thing Sirius says because most of it was sure to be a bald faced lie.
"There's nothing to tell," I reassured him, before pointedly swiping some dirt from my robes. "I really need to go and freshen up. Can I pass?"
Sirius pursed his lips but releases my sleeve. "I'll get you to squawk eventually." He promised.
I bowed, low and mocking, and said, "Of course, Lord Black." Sirius looked as though he's swallowed a lemon. "Or would you prefer Siri, My Lord?"
"Tart. Clean yourself up. Make it quick. You know Mother doesn't like to be kept waiting."
"Thanks for the permission, my Lord," I smiled thinly and set off. Luckily, cleaning up wasn't hard with the assistance of the House Elves, and I arrived in the main room at the same time as Regulus, who seemed to be cutting his arrival uncharacteristically late.
The room was filled with my first cousins: Hesper, Evan, Sirius, Mandel, Patricia and Regulus. My sisters were spread out between my cousins. Bellatrix favoured the company of Patsy and Evan, being the closest in age with them. Andromeda sat beside Mandel, quietly responding to his questions about Hogwarts. Narcissa was sitting between Hesper and Sirius, her eyes dead and her lips thin. When she saw me enter, she sent me a pleading glance.
I squeezed myself between her and Sirius, who Narcissa barely tolerated on a good day.
Sirius took a long, deliberate inhale through his nose. "You made it. Feeling fresh?"
"So very fresh," I said, rather flatly. I turned to Narcissa. "Do you know what we're here for?"
"Does it matter? Lady Black calls on us. We answer." Hesper said.
I made a confused sound. "Huh… that's funny. I don't remember asking you, Hesper. How about you keep that bulbous nose of yours out of my private conversations, yes?" She flushed angrily and opened her mouth to perhaps burp the alphabet when Narcissa smiled, clapped her hands together, and beckoned over Regulus.
"Would you like to sit here, Regulus?" Narcissa asked. She grabbed Hesper's hand and stood without waiting for a reply. "Of course, I'd be happy to offer up my seat. Come, Hesper, I think Evan requires us on that side of the room. Very far away from here." And then she left.
"I love Cissy," I said to no one in particular.
"She's alright," Sirius shrugged. He smiled warmly at his brother and shifted over to clear a space between me and him. This, of course, gave him to opportunity to shove me nearly over the arm of the couch, which he was very much aware of, I'm sure. He patted the couch. "Sit down, Reg. No use standing there."
Regulus sat. "Do you know what this is about?" I asked him.
"Maybe," Regulus mused. "Uncle Alphard sent an owl with news about the vacation house in the states. Do you know which one?"
"The safe house in Boston that no one likes to talk about because a blood-traitor set up camp there in the 1870s? Never heard of it."
"Look," Sirius said mildly. "She knows jokes now."
Ignoring our byplay, Regulus continued. "I think we're going to visit the house in America."
"Really?" Sirius pulled a face. "We're visiting the yanks? I thought we had that fancy dinner party to attend."
"We do, but only for the night. Mother says its, "adult business". That's all she said. The house is empty, Siri. No 'yanks'. Anyone who lived there is dead now."
"Oh. Still. Yanks, you know?"
"Yes, I know."
I rolled my eyes to the ceiling. "Boston, huh? I hate the states. Have I mentioned that?"
"No," Sirius replied, sounding unconcerned. "We don't care."
"I kind of care," Regulus kindly assured me. "Why do you hate the states?"
"Do you know who Donald Trump is, Reg?" He shook his head. I smiled and patted his hand. "You're lucky."
Anything else we have to say was interrupted by the arrival of Aunt Walburga.
This point of my life is what I like to call, The Beginning of My Very Slow And (In Hindsight) Inevitable Psychotic Break.
The Boston Black house was very interesting indeed.
Naturally, the house itself wasn't anything special – 1870s, Victorian flavour in the staircases and foundations, slightly revamped to fit our delicate 1960 sensibilities — but the story behind it... as a writer, I could appreciate that much.
Plus, there weren't heads mounted on the walls of that house, which I personally found quite tasteful.
On the first day, the only Black children – because that's what the kids were there for, to hide away in Boston while the adults discussed 'business' – in the home were myself, my sisters (Bellatrix would be leaving soon, of course, but for now she was a chaperone until Uncle Alphard was free), Evan and Mandel. Sirius, Regulus, Patricia and Hesper were fulfilling their duties back home before the younger ones would come to us in Boston.
I had no idea what their 'duties' entail, or why every Black kid over thirteen was staying home when the manor would be flooded with pure-bloods, so don't ask. That's just how it was.
"This is it," Evan = said as we landed in the lawn of the house, the portkey dumping us unceremoniously on the cobblestone. "Settle them in, would you, Bellatrix? I must attend to some duties for Lady Black."
Bellatrix narrowed her eyes. "Duties?"
"You know how it is." He said airily. "Brother, you're with me."
Mandel furrowed his eyebrows and shot a glance at Andromeda. "I can't stay with the girls?"
"I need you for something." Said Evan, "I want to introduce you to someone."
"You'll see." Evan said enigmatically. He took Mandel's hand and smiled at Bellatrix. "Prepare the house with haste, Bellatrix. We have only a day before Alphard arrives."
"I know my duties. Worry about yourself, Rosier." Bellatrix said snidely before turning her head away dismissively. Addressing us, her tone didn't warm as it usually would, "Come." She stormed towards the door without another word. Andromeda looked concerned and lingered only to pat Mandel's head before she dogged our older sister's heels. Narcissa and I had exchanged a glance before following.
Evan's Apparition snatched him away from the property.
I asked, "Bella, what's going on?"
Bellatrix said, "Later, Dora."
Except there hadn't quite been a later. We entered the home, keyed ourselves and our family into the base wards and activated the defences. Everything inside was outdated, dusty, or simply ugly. Andromeda wrinkled her nose. "The House Elves truly cannot make the journey here?"
Bellatrix looked similarly disgusted. "The manor is hosting a grand party for pure-bloods loyal to the true ways," She said, sounding more like a hiss than anything. "Lady Black cannot spare even a single creature."
"I can't believe we're doing servants work…" Narcissa muttered. "I feel filthy."
"You're not," Bellatrix assured us all. She pulled out her wand.
"What are you doing?" Andromeda squawked, surging forward. "You mustn't, Bella, you still have the trace on your wand."
Bellatrix stared at her dully. "So what?"
"So wha—that means you'll bring the MACUSA down on our heads! We don't have anyone over the age of minority in the estate at the present moment, they'll have to send a warning."
Bellatrix snarled in annoyance but pocketed her wand. "Then what are we supposed to do about this ghastly mess? If we're to have guests tonight, the estate can't look like this. It would leave a nasty impression on our… friend." Andromeda and Narcissa looked at a loss for solutions. I waited for one of them to say the obvious, but the idea hadn't appeared to cross any of their minds.
As the silence stretched, I cleared my throat. Once I had their attention, I pointedly rolled up my sleeves and said, "One way or another, that offensive dresser will be removed from my sight."
Bellatrix looked repulsed. "You would have us move it with our arms?"
"We could use the workout."
"It is demeaning, belittling, and I won't disgrace the Black family name by partaking in this unsophisticated physical labour! I am above it!" Bellatrix had squawked. She'd always been loud, but she'd been shrikier as of late. I'd gotten the idea that someone was encouraging her yelling at Hogwarts.
Andromeda rubbed her hair. Looking distinctly harassed, she peered at Bellatrix and asked, "How important is our… guest, dear sister?"
That stopped Bellatrix in her tracks.
Ten minutes later, that's how she found us: sweating, dragging her precious valuables over the house, ransacking her drawers and admiring the jewellery we find. In fact, for accuracy's sake, I should tell you that when she found us, Bellatrix was cooing over some pearls while Narcissa modelled a stunning pair of sapphire earrings.
"Who areyou!? Thieves! Scoundrels!"
At the impressive howl, all four of us whipped around, Andromeda and Bellatrix arming themselves instantly. Narcissa put me behind her. I let her because it was the safest place for me, though I carefully tiptoe to peer over her shoulders. Bellatrix looked fierce with her wand at the nose of the woman who had screamed, baring her teeth as if they were bloody.
That's when we noticed what she was
For a moment, Bellatrix was simply too startled to react.
The woman asked, "What are you doing in my home?"
"Your home?" Bellatrix sniffed, still seeming kind of flat-footed.
"Yes, my home. It is the place that I live. Now explain yourselves, rogues: do you intend to rob me of my valuables?"
Derisively, Bellatrix sneered, "What valuables? That dreadful wardrobe over there? What would I do with it, feed it to my domesticated termites? Shall I steal mould from the walls and take it back to show to all of my friends? Perhaps I should steal those pearls from your neck and sell them to the Bloody Baron!"
"Bella," Andromeda sounded startled. She lowered her wand. "I—we're terribly sorry, madam, we didn't realize this place was occupied by one of the dead. Our Uncle Alphard made no mention of you."
... A ghost.
The woman was a ghost, transparent and emitting an aura of death and longing. She drifted in mid-air, feet nothing more than a concentrated area of smoke: a young woman with curly hair twisted into an elaborate up-do. She wore pearl earrings that matched the string of pearls around her throat. Her day dress looked expensive, with a high collar and a full skirt in the rear, and her underskirt (heavily trimmed with ruffles and pleats) trailed behind her, floating in mid-air as she did.
A beautiful woman, certainly, but with a grating voice just like Druella's. It was a point against her.
Yeah… our Boston vacation home was haunted. That just happened.
"Dead? I am not dead, you foolish little girl." The woman snapped. "You may call me Madam Iola or you can call me nothing at all!"
Bellatrix peered suspiciously. "That does not make sense. Of course you're dead. My wand is poking through your chest." And indeed, her wand was.
Iola floated back enough that the wand conveniently wasn't poking her and looked down. She frowned. "I can see that it is not, little girl. Enough with your twisted words, I will listen no more to your lies." The offense on Bellatrix's face normally would have had her spitting mad and sending spells across the room. Bit redundant, that, against a ghost.
"We're not lying?" Andromeda said, before huffing and saying again, more confident this time, "We're not lying. Why would we lie about you being a ghost?"
"A ghost? Me? You must be mistaken. I am no more a ghost than you four girls are helpful citizens who contribute to the community!"
"How dare you, you filthy—" Bellatrix began, eyes flashing, before visibly reeling herself in. She breathed heavily through her teeth. "I will not argue honor with the echo of a filthy peasant long since departed from this world. Andy! Come, you will deal with this dead thing."
Andromeda hesitantly said, "Bella, I'm not—" I thought she might be intending to say, Bella, I am not very good at diplomatic missions, which would be the God honest truth, except she was interrupted before she can finish. By Iola, naturally.
"I am certainly not dead!" Iola said, aghast. She fanned herself with her hands. "This is such a dreadfully confusing situation. I'm feeling very distressed right now!" Bellatrix, Andromeda, Narcissa and I shared a long, dubious look between each other. "Is it getting warmer in here or is that just me?"
"Buuuut… I thought ghosts couldn't feel temperature?" Narcissa tilted her head.
Iola narrowed her eyes. "So? I am not dead so those rules don't apply to me."
Narcissa was baffled. "W-what? Don't be a fool, of course you are! What manner of trickery is this? Andy? Bella?"
"I've… I've no clue." Andromeda looked to Bellatrix for guidance, but Bellatrix was much too occupied with finding her happy place to be of assistance. "I've never encountered a ghost who doesn't believe that they're dead. I didn't know ghosts could delude themselves."
"I thought the dead couldn't lie, not even to themselves." I murmured.
Andromeda nodded. "Yes, I thought so too, but…"
"Do not talk about me as if I am not present before you, worms," Iola said easily and mildly, frowning at Andromeda in particular. "If you are not here to rob me of my jewels, explain your presence in my abode. What do you want?"
"What do we want? Shouldn't we be asking you that?" I said. Iola huffed delicately, glaring at me. "What?"
"Dora, really— " Andromeda began, sounding half-distracted.
"Dora? Your name is Dora?" Iola interjected, peering at me closely. She looked vindictive for a minute. "I hope you're not like the DoraI know."
"What Dora do you know?"
"My sister, of course," Iola said primly. "Elladora!" That name certainly sounded familiar. Bellatrix's eyes go glassy in thought. I was sure she was mentally rifling through our history lessons to figure out where the name lands on the family tree. Still, as familiar as the name Elladora was, I had never heard of an Iola Black. I considered bringing it up, but Bellatrix must already be wary of that herself.
Narcissa tossed her hair back like a mare. "Elladora? Elladora Black, I suppose?" When Iola nodded, Narcissa put on her best sneer and enthusiastically said, tone like a triumphant aha!: "There is no Elladora Black alive; that has to mean that she's dead!"
"Outstanding conclusion, however did you reach it?" Said Bellatrix absently, still deep in thought.
Iola and Narcissa began sniping at each other without further ado. I was largely content to watch, but Andromeda wasn't, because Andromeda never was. She raised her hands passively and stepped out in front of Narcissa, drawing the spirit's attention. She then attempted to, I don't know, diffuse the tension in the room, perhaps? I'm not sure. It was likely intended to be some impressive diplomatic move that she learned from Aunt Cassiopeia. Unfortunately, Andromeda is quite rubbish at politics, so.
"Oh, you have to be a ghost. There's no other explanation." Iola stared at Andromeda. Actually, we all did — not because we doubted her, but because it's so obvious that we were a bit lost as to why she was saying it aloud.
"Andy," I said. "Stop yourself while you can."
Andromeda didn't stop herself. Black's are naturally allergic to cooperation, so I couldn't say I was surprised.
"It's pretty apparent, isn't it? You seem to be from the Victorian era as well, judging by your skirt. I'm sure I've seen an 'Iola Black' on the family tree as well." Iola trembled like she was about to explode with rage. Andromeda didn't appear to notice – fair enough, body language was different on ghosts. "I am truly sorry for your passing, Madam. It must have been — "
"I'm not dead!" Iola shrieked, cutting Andromeda off before surging away as if Andromeda's mere presence repulsed her. Unfortunately that put her closer to Narcissa and I, but Andromeda looks quite offended, so it's worth it. Andromeda pouted at the smirking Bellatrix.
"Why are we even talking to the dead woman?" I asked the ceiling. It had no answers for me. I was nudged by one of my sisters, Merlin knows which one, and looked down. Iola looked displeased with me. To put it mildly.
"Hey, rascal!" She was looking at me. I put my hand on my collarbone in question to be a dickhead anyway. "Yes, I'm talking to you, girl. Stop saying I am dead, I am most certainly not!" It's a wonder she didn't notice that her arms were crossing into each other, as opposed to crossing over each other. "I will thank you to cease such nonsense immediately!"
"Terribly sorry, is 'dead' not the right term? What would you prefer?" I spread my hands out. "Living challenged? Mortally impaired?"
Andromeda drummed her fingers on her chin. "Wouldn't it be 'mortality impaired', if it had to be anything at all?"
"Yes, a valuable input, Andy, well done."
Narcissa looked between Andromeda and Iola before raising her hand. "I think you're dead, too." Said Narcissa without waiting to be called on.
"That is because you have the face of a warthog."
I couldn't help myself. I snorted. Narcissa sent me a filthy look. "I though Victorian pure-blood's had more decorum than this," I said. "Also, you're transparent, floating, and wearing outdated clothes. You're definitely a ghost."
If she had blood, it would have rushed to her cheeks. Whipping around, Iola thrust her finger in my chest – ew – and roared, "You are heinous-looking, too, little girl!" I knew my offense must show on my face, because Bellatrix makes a high-pitched sound like she was trying not to lose it. I couldn't believe it — why was I called 'heinous-faced' while Narcissa gets a simple 'warthog?
I squared my shoulders and turned away from everyone, face burning. "Whatever." I scoffed, kicking up my robes as I stomped away into the next room. I resolved to return to the peanut gallery when I wasn't contemplating snatching Bellatrix's wand and sending a curse at the ghost.
Distantly, I heard Andromeda gently scold, "Now look what you've done. You've upset the baby of the family."
After an undetermined time later, Narcissa entered the room I was currently squatting in. "Dora," She mumbled in surprise, before sighing and taking a seat beside me. I guess she hadn't watched to see where I stormed off to when I stormed off.
"Did she insult you again?"
"Yes. I don't like her." She answered, lips pursed.
"That's actually fairly evident."
"Do you think we should call an exorcist?"
"That's not our decision to make," I pouted. "Evan is the only one with the authority."
Narcissa sighed but nodded her head. "I had thought as much myself," She muttered. She turned to me and watched me watch the clouds move across the sky from the window. "Have you figured out why we're here yet, dear sister?"
I shot her a look. "No. Bella hasn't informed me of anything. Do you know?"
"I have my suspicions." Narcissa said, frowning at me. "There are whispers… have you not heard them?"
"What are you talking about?"
Narcissa made a 'ch' sound and shook her head sharply. She looked almost… disappointed with me. "Perhaps it is better to leave you in your ignorance," She spoke to herself, shifting so that she could stare out the window as well. It was a brown-stained one but transparent enough that we could see geese flying overhead in the distance, dark shapes streaking across the sky. "Do you not wonder about Bella?"
I blinked, the questions about our situation that were building in my throat dying. "Bella?" Narcissa nodded. I do too, after a pause. "About how… different she's been lately? Of course I wonder about it. She's my sister as well. I worry."
"Worried enough to go seeking answers?"
"Well — I didn't know there… that the situation had… what are you implying, Cissy? Speak plainly."
Narcissa sent me another sidelong glance, tensing minutely at the expression of impatience on my face. She pushed a stray piece of light hair out of her face. "Never you mind," She muttered, sending me another look. "It will become obvious soon, if not by your own volition then by Mother's."
"What are you talking about?"
Narcissa was unusually solemn. Then she snorted. Her face returned to its usual infuriating, and she yanked on my hair for no apparent reason at all. I squawk, of course, because ow, but I was honestly a little glad that she broke the weird atmosphere. "When you're older," She teased me. "Maybe when you're old enough to go to Hogwarts?"
"Shut up," I bit, shoving her back. "Just because you and Hesper are eleven doesn't mean you can be absolute trolls all the time! It's no excuse!"
Narcissa sniffs in disdain and tosses her hair back. "Sounds like someone's jealous, if you ask me."
"Well no one's asking you, are they."
"Temper, temper! The lady doth protest too much!"
Narcissa laughed, messes with my hair again, and threw herself back to lie down on the floor. Smiling absently, she told me, "Things are changing, little troll."
"Changing in a good way or changing in a bad way?" I asked, still lost on what's going on lately.
Narcissa blew out a long breath and muttered, "I've no clue, heinous-face."
I gave up and laid down beside her. I jabbed her in the ribs for good measure, least she start thinking I enjoyed her presence. She jumped like someone had sent a bolt of electricity down her spine. She glared at me from the corner of her eye. I wisely told her, "At least I'm not a warthog."
Narcissa and I had spent a lot of time in the room together, enjoying each other's presence innocently and fully. Bellatrix and Andromeda had joined in, but being as old as they were, they'd gotten bored eventually and left to mess around with the house. It was about sunset when I was about to fish around for snacks or beverages. Evans entered the house with a subdued Mandel, and I stopped at the door: Evan was looking oddly smug, even for him, which stopped me in my tracks.
It was good that Evan is back, because being the heir to the Rosier house, he had the ability to call upon House Elves, and we needed someone to attend to the house. Us Black sisters gave up on it pretty quickly after discovering Iola.
He summoned three House Elves from across the oceans and set them to work immediately, to my relief.
Turning to Bellatrix, who was waiting for him in the foyer, he gently stroked the swell of her cheek, before reaching up with his other one and harshly framing her face with his hands. He'd been a lot more aggressive lately for no reason. It bothered me, yeah, but I tried not to think on it much.
I found myself lingering in the doorway, eavesdropping without even thinking about it.
"It is done," He told her. "We will be having guests tonight, dear cousin. Seven pure-blood families, heads and heirs and betrothed's."
"Which ones?" Bellatrix's eyes flashed. "Which ones did you claim?"
"Josephine Picquery. William Steward. Manius Wayne. Nero Boot. Isolt Colmes. Marcius Rutherford. Calpernius Vane."
"Choosing to remain neutral for the time being," Evan paused. "… But I know them to be easily persuaded. Peace, dear cousin. Chance favours us: they will stand by His side by the end of summer."
"We must." Bellatrix snarled. "There is no chance, there is do or die." Evan looked unimpressed with her ferocity. "Swear on it, Evan. Swear to me that we will have the Pendergrass family by the last sunset of summer or any moment before it." Bellatrix was using her mean voice. She learned it from our mother. I didn't like to hear it coming from her but knowing Bellatrix, if she knew that I was listening, the conversation happening before me would end rather abruptly. I didn't know why, but I felt that I needed to hear this.
Evan, naturally, hesitated.
Bellatrix reached up and grabbed the wrists attached to the hands keeping her head in place. She dug her claws into the sensitive underside of his wrist. He flinched, tried to reclaim his arms, but it didn't work. Bellatrix was tenacious like that. "Swear it," She said again, quieter this time, dangerously. "I would have you swear on your life and your magic, Evan Rosier. This is no small task. We cannot afford to fail it. Do you understand?"
"Of course I understand," Evan hissed in offense. "I have been in the thick of this longer than you, cousin—"
"But there are none as loyal to this cause as I, cousin, none." Bellatrix bit.
Satisfied, Bellatrix bared her teeth in a smile. I hated it. I hated it, I hated it, I hated it. I hated her. I hated this situation. I hated whatever has happened that is beginning to turn her into a person I am barely recognizing. That is not my sister.
"He knows it as well as you do — why do you think I have been trusted with this task, with this imperative duty to our cause? Why me, who has been informed of this only a handful of years, instead you, who has been lurking in His shadow for near a decade? Why is it me and not you, cousin? Do you know?"
Evan was silent.
Bellatrix broke the skin of his wrists with her nails.
"Do you know?" She rasped. "Have you no idea? Truly?"
The commotion attracted my sister, for Narcissa now stood against my back. I could feel her trembling: nervousness?
"It is because I alone am loyal to Him in ways no others shall ever be. His victory will be achieved at all costs. That is the secret to His trust; to my survival. At all costs. There is no price too high for me to pay, no burden too heavy for me to bare, not if it pleases Him, and He rewards my faith with tasks such as these — tasks He will never entrust to you. That is how you stand by His side, cousin — as His loyal servant. He owns my life, my magic, my heart. He is everything."
"Do you understand now, Evan?" Bellatrix released him. Evan carefully didn't step out of her personal space, though I could tell that he wanted nothing more than to put distance between them. "I would have you swear on your magic, dearest cousin, that you will have the Pendergrass family sworn to His allegiance."
"And if they cannot be convinced?" Evan asked with narrowed eyes.
Bellatrix sneered, spat, "If holding them under the Cruciatus curse fails to open their minds to richer pastures, you mean?" Evan nodded. Bellatrix, with venom in her throat, tells him exactly what he should do:
"If that family cannot be convinced then they cannot be trusted, and we will name them blood-traitors — nothing more than filthy pests playing where they are not welcome. They must be culled. Unleash a plague upon them — make them regret ever doubting His power, strike fear into the hearts of the other pathetic families who doubt, show them the power His followers wield. Burn their bones if need be, cousin. We will have the Pendergrass', or no one will."
Narcissa placed her hand on the back of my neck. "Come, sister," She whispered as Bellatrix and Evan fled the hallway. "Let's find some food."
I looked over at Narcissa and caught myself wondering when I would lose her too.
Picquery. Steward. Wayne. Boot. Colmes. Rutherford. Vane. Rosier. Black.
Evan and Bellatrix entertained the pure-bloods with an extravagant dinner while the children and heirs socialized in the living room. There was a ward around the dining room that made it impossible for me to eavesdrop on the proceedings, and I wasn't close enough to carve a little hole for me to listen to. I was good at wards, but even I couldn't do much from the opposite side of the room.
Instead, I sat to the side and watched intently regardless of the disadvantages. I taught myself how to read their lips as quickly as possible — I didn't succeed, but half-knowledge, however unreliable, was better than ignorance.
At the dining table, Bellatrix placed her arm on the table and pulled up her sleeve. Rutherford's body blocked the sight from me, but I noticed the pureblood's gasping at whatever she had presented to them. I had a feeling I knew what it was. Disgust and shame rose in me until I was choking on them — I couldn't believe it. I wouldn't believe it.
Not my sister, I thought, over and over and over, Not my sister, and not so soon.
She was only fifteen. It was only her fifth year in Hogwarts. She was still mine.
How could I be so blind?
(But I hadn't been, not really. I had seen evidence of a sinister presence in her life, and I had heard more than whispers of the thing in the dark. I had been having a reoccurring dream of a monster in my closet, staring out at me with glowing red eyes, but I had dismissed them — no, not dismissed, repressed. I had repressed all memory of signs pointing to this outcome to save my own mind from descending into distress. I had purposefully been ignoring the boogieman under my bed, focusing on the smiles my sister gave me and thinking not of her frayed nerves and the dark glint that is ever present in her eyes.
I had not been blind.
I had been naïve.)
"My parents once did this too, before their schemes turned on them and put an end to their souls." Iola whispered. I jumped at the sudden proximity of her voice.
She was lingering in a dark corner of the room, letting the shadows swallow her unnatural glow as she glowered at the pureblood's dining at her table. Her face was twisted with disgust. "Curried the favour of other families through fear and pain and violence. They struck terror into the hearts of innocents to suit their own nefarious needs. This is a popular game among the elite."
I was compelled to listen.
"I remember one night… my mother invited the heirs of all houses who had slighted her to dinner. The entire night she whispered into their ears — lies upon lies upon lies. She convinced a man that his best friend was his worst enemy. Her silver tongue convinced them of the wisdom of a pre-emptive strike. She moulded them into desperate men and then armed them with a small tube of arsenic powder. I sat on her left that dinner, as these children fell upon their own swords for the slights of their parents, and watched her laugh herself sick over their dead bodies."
"'You've killed them,' I cried. 'Mama, you have killed them all, these fresh-faced boys and rosy-cheeked girls, and for what? For the sins of their parents? For what? To prove your superiority? You have extinguished their flames and you disrespect their lives by laughing at their corpses. What reason could you have for this madness?'"
"She sat there at the head of the table with her untouched plate of food before her, sipping wine from her gold goblet, and stared at me unnervingly over the edge of it. I watched the mirth strain from her eyes as she watched me, her youngest, mourn the senseless death around her. She sneered at me for my compassion. Yet still, she said nothing."
"I cried, I begged for a reason, any reason, to explain away the stench of death around me. I told her, 'I can't love you, I fear. Not without an explanation for this funeral.' When I saw that emotion would not sway her, I threatened her. 'If you do not tell me, Mama, I will go to the Congress and I will confess to your devilry.' Yet still, she said nothing. She stared at me as if the children were not slumped over the tables, dead by her own hands. As if she did not see them. Could not smell them."
"I ran out of breath eventually. For what seemed like hours, we simply sat there, staring at each other. My mother did not move a fraction of an inch. Only when I had calmed down, when the torrential grief inside of me had been tamed until I felt nothing except an overwhelming nothingness, did my mother place her goblet down. She then began to eat. She cut into her rare steak with her polished silver cutlery slowly, daintily, and ate just the same way. I watched her silently finish her meal in revulsion."
"It was only when she had finished half of her dinner and placed her cutlery to the side did she address me. Wiping her mouth, she folded the napkin over her plate and said to me, 'Does there need to be a reason, Iola?'"
"'Of course there needs to be a reason,' I told her. 'If someone invited me into their home and murdered me there, would you not beg for an explanation?'"
'No,' She said. She didn't even hesitate. 'I would not miss you. I would not grieve you. My child you are, and I love you appropriately, but I am old enough to know the truth of all things: everything dies. Whether you die of natural causes or by another's careful hand is of no concern to me — there is no difference. I would not ask for a reason, for a petty explanation; such things are worthless to me and would not return you to me.'
"It was the answer I had not wanted, not ever. 'Fine,' I had managed to say around my own terror and grief. 'Fine, if that's what you think… then for me, your daughter, wouldn't you confide in me your reasons? Please, Mama. I am begging this of you—this one, simple thing, a basic question. Why did you do it?'"
"My mother thought long and hard at my question. I prepared myself for a speech, for a paragraph of words, a cathedral of reasons and excuses that would allow me to forgive her of this sin. I waited, I yearned, I longed for her innocence. But she did not give me it.."
"She said… She said, 'I was thinking about my own mother this morning, about the way she died, taken from me by that dreadful plague. The plague had not been kind to my mother's body — I could scarcely identify her. Would not have, if not for the familiar buzz of her magic. Black Death, I remember thinking disgracefully. I was disgusted — at the gore, at the audacity, at the insult? I am not entirely certain. No, I thought, a Black would not kill like this, so hideously and disrespectfully. I meditated on that memory this morning so that I would be in the right state of mind to prove it to myself — to prove the sophistication of a proper Black massacre to the world.'"
"'That is all. That is the only reason I have. Does it satisfy you? Are we done with this conversation?' I had been too floored to fumble with a response. She then told me to go to her room. 'In my top drawer, beneath the false bottom of the pearl drawer, there is something I would like for you to read. Fetch it swiftly, if you would, Iola. It is of the utmost importance.' She said. And then she finished her dinner."
Eventually, after a stretched moment where I closed my eyes and imagined the horror of the scene, I was the one to break the silence. I was still alone in my isolated corner of the room while Andromeda, Mandel and Narcissa entertained the children of the purebloods in the dining room. I felt detached from my body. Is this even reality, I began to wonder. Am I dreaming, or is real life truly as cruel as this?
I had no answers for myself.
I turned to Iola and softly asked her, "Why did you tell me that?"
Iola didn't answer immediately. She watched the emotions on my face sadly — that compassion she talked about presented in her ghostly eyes — before eventually telling me. "Because that night, I did not go upstairs and fetch what my mother sought for me to fetch. I went straight to my chambers, packed my things, and disappeared into the night."
"You ran away from home?"
"Without a second thought," Iola told me, closing her eyes wistfully, as if the memory warmed her even in death. "I used the money lining my pockets to join a voyage across the ocean and settled in the United States of America with no one but myself as company. My brothers and sister regularly owled me, pleading with me to see sense and return to Britain, but I would not. I was adamant. I was determined to stay away from such a toxic environment. The Black Family is cursed, I once told Phineas in a letter, It is cursed and poisonous and condemned to hell for the sins of our ancestors before us. Our bloodline is tainted. I will have no part in the madness any longer."
My lips pinched. I was fond of my family and it hurt to hear her say such things. I was still loyal, despite what Iola seemed to believe of me and my destiny. I was still loyal. I was still loyal.
"And so I left. And I stayed away. And I became happy without them dogging my footsteps."
"Yeah," I said derisively, unable to help myself. I pointedly stared at her floating feet. "And now look at you."
How could she have ever wanted this, I wondered? Eternal life? To live as a shade of her living self until the sun burns the earth and there is no one left to haunt. Oh, what I would give, I thought, to have passed peacefully into the next life. Suddenly, I was tired of living. Or perhaps, not so suddenly at all.
Iola smiled at me. She hadn't taken offense to my words. Amusement, at most. Pity, at least. "Do you know what that thing she told me to fetch was? When she explained her reasons and sent me to her room?" I shrugged. I didn't recall her mentioning it. That didn't mean she hasn't, just that I hadn't been paying attention.
"It was her will, Callidora." Iola told me softly. "It was her will. My mother died that night as well, poisoned by the very meal that the others died by. I had watched her eat that entire steak and never knew that she was dying as she feasted. There was no sign of it on her face. It was as if she were eating an average meal: how was I to know? When my brother told me the news... That's when I knew: my mother was not the woman I loved when she died. I grieved her — of course I did, she was my mother — but I did not regret her passing. She was not human enough for that."
But I was no longer looking at Iola. I was barely listening.
No, what I was doing was staring into the dining room, my eyes blown wide at the sight laid before me. Rutherford had shifted enough that I could saw Evan.
And what I saw...
"Me? At least I died human."
... struck terror into my heart.
No. I thought. Please, no. It can't be. It can't be so bad.
But it was.
A time ago, I realized that my mother took out everything beating and red within me and replaced with steel and flint and hard sharp edges. That for all my efforts and memories and life experience, the ability to be gentle was now lost on me.
Despite this, I tried, I amtrying to be a person. For Narcissa and Andromeda and Bellatrix; for my sisters and hearts and lights of my life. I want to be a person again. And so there is a new fear of disappointing the ones who see me as a person and not a thing — that I'm not a ghost who has convinced herself that she is still alive, even with that gaping hole in her chest. I learn that this new fear compromises me in ways I've never been disadvantaged with before.
Being reborn does not give me an advantage over him — and let's not pretend we don't all know who I'm talking about here. He is a genius, one of the most powerful wizards in the world, and whatever heart he possesses that beats beneath his breast is one full of bitter black sludge. I am seven, then eight, then eleven, then seventeen, and in none of those ages am I the small butterfly that heralds a hurricane. I am flesh and blood and bones and he is desperate and unloved and dangerous.
(Dangerous. Why would I put myself in front of that? Why would anyone ever—)
Why wouldn't you fight, you ask? You think ill of me, don't you, for not standing against him despite my fear. For not being brave and courageous and stubborn in the face of an inevitable, painful end. Don't you? I can see it in your eyes. You're judging me. You think me a coward. Ha. Well, it is an opinion and I will respect that it is yours. However, there is a difference between me and the — the Order of the Phoenix. Between me and the blood-traitor Gryffindor's in their tilted homes and shared embraces. Between me and oppressed ones. It's simple.
He is primal. That's what it is to me — it's primal and childlike. The boogieman. He's the dark underneath my bed and in my closet with glowing red eyes—
— but here's the thing. I was shoved into that dark. I know what that dark is. And I am very afraid.
And I will be staying out of his way. I have died one too many times as it is.
(Simple, yeah? What'd I tell you?)
((There is a breaking point, Iola tells me. A point in your life where you cannot bend or twist or weave situations to fit your advantage. A point in your life where the tension is concentrated and you fracture and you know, you know that you will break, that fracturing and breaking and snapping is the only option available to you, and you cannot escape it. When that point arrives, you will have a choice.
The Black Family have a chronic habit of looking behind them. Our dedication to the Old Ways is just as sure as a death sentence. She tells me that our family is too concerned with the principles that laid the road behind them and think not of ways to continue paving the way. Innovation, creativity, originality—all such things are lost to Black's as soon as they doom themselves to times long since passed.
That is the choice, she tells me. A simple one: Will you decide according to your future, or will you choose according to the past?
And then she tells me: I do so hope you pick the right choice, Callidora.))
I couldn't deny it any longer. Right there at the dining room table, I watched as Evan pulled up his sleeve.
And present, bold and evil, pressed into the pale underside of his arm, was a writhing red tattoo of a snake.
My world tilted.
22.09.16 | EDIT: Changed Pandora's name to the canon name it's supposed to be lol. Fixed a couple of unbearable typos but not much else. Additional note.
19.10.16 | EDIT: I realized that the Dark Mark tattoo is, in fact, red. So there's that.
05.11.16 | EDIT: I changed up all of Pandora's dialog because... holy shit, how old is she again? I don't know how to write children.
22.03.17 | EDIT: I revamped the entire chapter. I think I made it easier to read? Who knows.
Alternative title: 'Del just remembered that the Marauders Era is Voldemort's glory days and panicked a bit'?
Fun fact: wrote this chapter with Take On Me playing on repeat in the background. You probs can't tell with that thick smog of ANGST in the way. My bad.
Leave a review on your way out, unless you didn't like this, then please don't? I'm sensitive to any and all forms of criticism, constructive included. I need, like, constant validation. Pce.