Chapter Eighteen

AN: smoking, drinking, hunting. Beware. The Black family are weird as always.

Sunset. Tuesday 21st December 1971.

Sirius stood, naked to the waist and freezing, in the ancient great hall. Blæcmor House was the oldest seat of the Noble House of Black, rarely lived in now, used only for these… ceremonies.

Each man of the family took his turn to step forward, marked on the face and chest with the stuff in the bowl his father held. Even Alphard allowed it, and Sirius couldn't see a way to get out of it. The fire behind Orion, in the vast fireplace had been allowed to dim to embers, the fire of the year gone. It was the ashes from this fire that went into the beaten copper bowl. He was the youngest, he went last.

Sirius willed his legs to move and his stomach not to growl, fasting had begun at sundown yesterday. Orion loomed over his son, his eyes flashing in the dim light. Sirius could read that look, it was what passed for compassion in this family.

Sirius took the final step, standing bold and sure before his father.

Orion dipped his hand into the bowl one last time. His fingers dark with this stuff, he painted the two stars and sword on his heir's chest and belly. Sirius curbed the urge to curl his lip at the smell. Blood mixed with ashes and who knew what herbs was pungent and unpleasant. It was cold against his skin too.

Orion dipped his hand one last time and Sirius held his breath, shutting his eyes out of common sense. There would be no washing his father's handprint from his face until the day after the solstice.

It was sticky and cold and awful. But then it was done.

'We, House Black, as once again bound together by blood and ash. As it should always be.' Orion's voice rang against the oak rafters of the hall, the village beyond the forest was in the Muggle Doomsday Book, the family's magic meant the wood and stone of the hall were original.

'Toujours pur.' The men of the family echoed back.

They stepped back, lining the shadows of the hall, and in their place the witches of the family surrounded his mother. Even discounting the women who had married in – his grandmothers, Aunt Druella – they outnumbered the men. Though his married aunts were not permitted to bring their husbands, anyone born a Black was always a Black in every way that mattered.

Unless you were blasted off the tree.

In Brighton, Peter was watching Jackanory. His sister was complaining and wanted to listen to the radio instead, but Peter though the reader was pretty and argued that he should be allowed to watch all fifteen minutes of it.

As a result, Leah was doing her Beauxbatons homework lying on her front and occasionally muttering swear words in French under her breath. Peter knew they were swears because Sirius used them too, and James said Sirius spoke French almost better than he spoke English.

When Jackanory was finished, he would borrow his father's owl and write to Sirius to ask from some good things to call his sister. And find out what she was calling him.

Sirius' breath hung in the air before him, and the leaf mulch beneath his bare feet felt like ice.

It was full dark in the forest now, and if pressed he would say it was around nine o'clock. Which meant he had been wandering for around five hours. That probably explained why he wasn't paying much attention as he turned around a fallen tree, where it's broad trunk still leant against a standing fellow, like a man stumbling home after too good a night.

'Hello Sirius.'

He leapt out of his skin, catching his foot, and sending himself face first into the ground. He stared around blindly, trying to lift himself when where he sprawled on the floor, dirt and leaves clinging to the icy sweat that drenched him, keeping the blood-ash paint wet.

Alphard was leaning against the fallen tree, seemingly indifferent to the freezing night air on his own painted chest. A tiny ball of white-green mage light hung in the air near him and illuminated the droll smile on his face. He did not move to catch Sirius, nor to help him up. He simply watched, waiting.

Sirius, shivering hard now, pulled himself up to stand, bending forward to rest his hands on his knees to try and gain control of his racing breath. He lifted one hand to make a curious gesture at his uncle.

'Oh, no. I'm not taking part.' He waved a half-smoked cigarette at Sirius as evidence.

Reaching into a pocket Alphard produced a leather-wrapped, silver hipflask. Without moving closer to Sirius, he held it out, 'Here.'

Sirius took it, unquestioningly, and gulped down three quick mouthfuls. It made his throat burn and he coughed hard and slunk to his uncle's side to return it.

'It will help with the cold.'

'How close are they?'

Alphard considered it, 'I think they'll be done soon.' He took a long drag.

Sirius sighed, 'Why don't you hunt?'

'Why don't you?' Alphard countered.

Sirius smiled, 'I don't think twenty witches and wizards running through a forest at night after demons is particularly dignified.'

Alphard chuckled, 'Agreed.' He flicked his cigarette butt and vanished it mid air with a snap of his fingers, 'Would you like to visit me for Easter?'

Sirius cocked his head, 'Instead?'


'What about Regulus?'

Alphard shook his head with a smile, 'How strange it is, that you should be so close. Yes, I can arrange for him to come as well.'

'Then yes, please.'

'I will have you mucking out stables, I hope you realise that.'

Sirius laughed, 'Even better.'

Alphard clapped him on the shoulder, 'Come. We'll go to the stones and beat them all.'

Guided by his uncle's mage light, the two of them silently slipped between the trees, deeper into the forest.

Lily was happily curled up in the big armchair in the lounge with a mug of her dad's famous hot chocolate balanced on her knee, and her well read copy of Gulliver's Travels. Hogwarts was amazing, but it was nice to be home and relaxed.

She just managed to rescue the hot chocolate from flying everywhere when a blood curdling scream for upstairs made her jump out of her chair.

'Lily Evans! What the hell is this?!'

Lily sighed, rubbing at her chest to calm her pounding heart. Her dad looked up from the settee, where he was doing the crossword, 'You'd better go see what's wrong love.'

Lily dragged herself to the stairs and shouted up them, 'What Tunie?'

Petunia appeared at the top of the stairs, wrapped in a towel, and looking murderous, 'What is this?' She demanded.

Lily loped up the stairs and followed her sister to the bathroom. The sink was full of frogspawn.

She stared for a moment, and then slumped against the doorframe, one hand pressed to her mouth to stifle the giggles.

'This isn't funny!' Petunia spun and yelled down the stairs, 'Dad! Dad, Lily is being awful!' She wheeled on Lily, 'What did you do?'

'Nothing.' Lily was properly laughing now, 'Someone must have swapped it out.'

'What? What do you mean?'

'It's frogspawn soap.' Then she frowned, 'Why were you using my soap?'

'Ew, why haven't you used yours? You've been home for days!'

Lily pointed to her pink soap in the soap dish, 'Because I had that one left. You went in my trunk and took that.'

'Well, I … you shouldn't have disgusting things like that.'

Lily put her hands on her hips, 'You shouldn't be snooping in my things!'

'I was not!'

'You clearly were.'

Lily stormed out of the bathroom and into her bedroom, throwing open her trunk it was very clear someone had rummaged through it.

'How dare you Petunia?' Lily slammed the door and threw herself down on the bed. Petunia had been so angry and difficult since Lily was invited to Hogwarts, and it was really starting to upset her.

It had taken Sirius six attempts, but he had finally got the trick of creating a magical spark and used his newfound ability to light the fire Alphard built in the centre of the ring of stones.

The stone circle had stood on the barrow at the heart of Blackmoor Forest for thousands of years. The Black family had used them for their rituals and ceremonies for longer than the family kept records, and so it was here the hunt would end.

Soon enough, there were three nogtails speared and crackling above the fire. Magic turned them slowly, though the meat would not be ready until dawn, when they could finally break their fast.

Not that Sirius really wanted to eat spit roasted pig demon. In fact, he was staying back from the fire, despite the chill of the night.

The elves had brought furs and cloaks, and he took his and leant back against one of the great stones, tilting his head back to watch the stars wheel above him.

A figure stepped lightly over the mossy ground towards him and flopped down next to him.

'You didn't hunt.'

'Nice to see you too Meda.'

She dug him lightly in the ribs with her elbow, 'Brat.'


She stuck her tongue out at him from under her heavy hood, 'How's it going at Black headquarters?'

'Mmm, Uncle Alphard is staying so a bit better.'



'Because Mother reckoned you were for it, after the sorting.'

Sirius chucked mirthlessly, 'Not yet.'

'Just be careful little cuz.'

Sirius checked no one was watching, then snuck a hand out to squeeze her arm gently, 'You too. Father told me.'

'Yes, I'm off the table.'

'What's happening with Narcissa?'

She shrugged, 'Not sure yet, I think you and I will no more when we get back to Hogwarts?'

'Why's that?'

'You'll see.'

'Sirius!' Walburga snapped from near the fire, 'Come here. Now.'

He sighed and pulled himself to his feet, trudging to his mother's side and restoring his neutral mask, 'Mother.'

Her fingers wrapped around his wrist like icy claws, and he suspected that was the end of his freedom for the holiday.