Brodick Black, 1859

  There comes a time in each man's existence, when passion does meet a meaning in one's endeavors, and in doing so it makes of us little but slaves to urges we cannot hold back. And disgrace should normally pursue, for it is feeble, to lust, and above all, to estimate one's powers beyond the borders to truly limit them. The last is a sentiment generated simply enough – we all deem to think that which we want can be reached, touched, embraced. We all desire the element of our passion. And believe we are worthy enough to obtain it.

   But some of us have greater expectations than others. And some of us, just some of us, know when to draw the line.

  Naturally, this was hardly my case. I had always humored my vanity in evaluating my Alchemy skills as exquisite. Transfiguration – advanced Transfiguration, that is- centered on more than one field of study. And the most intriguing and immensely satisfying could be and was none other than that in which I privately thought I could excel.

   Descending from a lineage with high performances in the domain, I trusted my magical abilities would also hold a certain inclination towards it. They did, and my increasing fascination for such a wondrously enigmatic subject only came to aid in the choice of my one and most cherished lover. Beautiful, voluptuous Alchemy.

  Unsurprisingly, Father's own affinity in its concern settled a sort of predisposition for it. Then again, it is quite unavoidable for a young man to look up to his Father's ordeals as the peak of moral and aristocratic occupations. That he was also part of the Order of Change, a very much official and select gathering motivated by exactly the brand of studies I favored, meant I was to also always receive first hand information and detailed reports on the newest discoveries in the field. So, my passion was enhanced.

   Was I truly to blame? No, I told myself, again and again, each time thought of my one weakness would reach me.

  And it was also no that I said that day, at the end of August, when Father and I were again caught in one of our endless conversations in respect to our shared work:      

   "I think that's quite enough dragon blood."

  We had adjoined for an hour in the little mansard Father had – in spite of all of Mother's reprimands in depriving her of an excellent location for another receiving chamber- transformed to a minuscule laboratory. It was unacceptable, he had deemed, for there to be no place for preparations and brewing in an Alchemist's home, and he would take none of it, and build his room, even if it meant it would have to remove the ballroom. The last perspective had dreaded Mama enough as to cause her immediate silencing on the matter. So there was no word on her behalf, when the arrangements were made to bring in the tables and pendulums and measure devices, and even the clocks. She even managed a smile in seeing her two "beautiful gentlemen" so very captivated by how the interior finally presented itself, and I do believe all regret for her possible receiving chamber was then lost.

   And yes, it was a glorious ensemble of tools and pieces skillfully displayed so to serve the wielders at their best. I loved being there – it made me feel so much closer to my goal, even by stepping in. One could say, it heightened my beliefs in "touching" the passion, as earlier put.

  This time, Father and I were discussing the probable formula of the cold fire. We knew – all of us- as a sign of the gifted towards the Art of Dueling. It was, on a small scale, represented by the wizardry fire. Stripes of blaze and perilous effect, but with no energy spent, no heat. It was a mystery on which the Order of Change had settled as topic of current study, and I had pleaded with Father to show me their results long enough so for him to actually decide on doing so. The price, however, had been simple enough. I was not to pester him with additional theories.

   I had been exceptionally quiet, when he'd read the means out, and bit my tongue a few times, in hearing one or more delicate areas where we had predominantly different point of views. But I could not keep back in hearing the modus operandi for an also problematic potency potion. The last, a miracle of Alchemy as well, most often showed its valor in combination with several other potions that needed strengthening. It increased the magical root – and therefore magical power- implemented, and played a substantial part in the entire affair.

  And here Father had added an enormous quantity of dragon blood that I couldn't for the life of me see as fit.    

   "Don't be a fool and listen to reason." Father said, raising his sharp cobalt eyes – an undisputed family trait- to measure me with cold disapproval. He was seated in one of the few sofas around, and there was paper all around him.

  Father, a somewhat young man in late thirties, did not favor indolence. He was a man of motion, unable to stand at one place for all too long, and this was heavily reflected in his choice of furniture. Shifting uncomfortably, in hopes of finding some angle where the hard back of the chair would no longer torment my own, I decreed that all seats must have been selected on their ability of making the seated wish to depart in a hurry. I rose from my place, made to move to one of the larger windows. Alchemy, as a subject with half a root in Potions, demanded a place of work with proper lighting and mean of providing air. Besides, there was no telling when something could go wrong and they could also earn themselves a third use of exits.

  "Why exactly is the Order of Change supporting all these new studies on the Potency Potions?" I tested, barely holding back a great many other inquiries of a much more blatant quality. This sort of straightforwardness was vulgar, I knew, but I still had to know…

  "Is it because they are preparing a thesis to contest those of Grindelwald on the matter?" He eyed me, for a long moment. "Is this how far things have reached? Has he earned himself that much power in the Ministry that his absurd evaluations demand riposte?"

  He frowned, and in a moment I knew I had gone over my limits. Ulrich Grindelwald was not a fashionable subject beneath our roof, just as I believed it was not under any. The Grindelwald heir, descending from a curious line – there was even word on there having once existed a Muggle ancestor, of all things…- but with considerable enough wealth and influence as for none to ask the improper questions, was cause for great dispute indeed. Personally, I could only think of one sole worthy attribute for Grindelwald, and that was chronic insanity.

  By own knowledge, he too was an Alchemist, and held a fascinating repertoire of accomplishments in the field. His theories, however, were beyond revolutionary, and much rather extended to sheer heresy to any rational belief. It was why, I had assessed, he had not been embraced by the ilk of the Order of Change, and still functioned as a freelancer, with no duty to the Ministry. All good and settled, then, as it was my opinion that if one is happy in a Dementor's grasp, why not let him or her suit her fancy, as long as no other party is to suffer?

  But there had come the slight problem. Others would be affected. He'd published theories on how magical abilities could be doubled by Alchemical efforts on the human spirit and even – Salazar forbid it!- conducted experiments on live subjects. Here, the Ministry had been forced to intervene and oppose him. And here, Grindelwald had drawn out his entire set of cards. Blackmail, political power, galleons, whatever was required so for silence on the matter to be imposed. To ensure this would be respected, he even steadily began an ascension within the political ranks. To the outsider's eye, he was no more than another Counselor of Science – the Order of Change would still not have him – but to those well enough versed in the affair, it was quite obvious, after a few movements against his opponents, as to who exactly held the strings.

  Word that he even held as much power as to overrun the current Minister, Veritus Cain, had come out, and with valid claims. There had been public sanctions against Grindelwald, and Cain had gone as far as decreeing all to share his unfortunate inclinations were unworthy of the society they lived in. It had been rather amusing, one day, to read between the fair lines of the most "subjective" – a decent pay to the main editor assured an article would subtly take a certain direction-  paper, the Daily Prophet, and find Grindelwald chastised in one commentary, then cheered in another. Ill synchronization had, it would seem, abounded in that edition.

  But within a few months, the situation had gone from muddle to chaos, and the Ministry found itself in more dirt than it could fight off, cover with Galleons or swallow. Squibs all around issued pleas, and soon enough protests, in that   Grindelwald's studies represented their chance to grasp a heritage long denied to them. They eagerly submitted to support the madman, and, what was worst was that they actually had a ruddy point. How could they not believe him, when the Ministry only chose to oppress his studies with no coherent foundation? How could they not think there was a sort of conspiracy to keep back squibs from their rightful positions? How could they not make a martyr out of the man, when he was presumed their last hope?

   Fools. All of them.

  But the Ministry couldn't afford to prohibit Grindelwald's pieces anymore, just like it couldn't afford to accept them either. So where oppression hadn't functioned, and diplomacy was not an issue, logics were requested. And the Order of Change was called on to counter each wretched study with one twice as voluminous proving the opposite.

  Trouble was, to deny anything, one was to examine the initial theory in all depth. There weren't many men willing or capable – despite his other absurdities, Grindelwald was one of the best…- to undergo this sort of an ordeal.

  And Father, as their elite, had been entitled to this very task. How richly divine. A pity it implied so much secrecy…  

  "Human – magical breeding…" I said, naming the theme of his last design, "Merlin, does the man have no God?"   

  "Grindelwald is his own god," I thought I could hear him mutter beneath his breath, but he made no gesture as to having truly paid attention to his own comment. Instead, he merely went over our calculus up to the date, carefully encrypted on a piece of scroll in his organized handwriting. He was evidently in no disposition to talk Ulrich Grindelwald's actions through.

   "This is just the needed quantity," he scribbled the new measure, then regarded me questioningly – most probably due to my standing still. Immediately, I loathed his comfort, and how he could actually bear those despicable seats, but I knew that to say so would be the very proof of having been utterly spoiled. And this was certainly not the done thing at all.

  But neither could I linger standing sans realization downing on him soon enough. Silently, I neared the windows close enough as to at least give the impression of following something outside. The autumn sun, shining on Mother's gardens, emphasized herbaceous borders crammed with a variety of orchids and roses, which, as she had issued, were so terribly romantic. This assessment in no way came to encourage me in adoring the fields, but I was alone in such demeanor, since Mother herself often enough graced it with her exquisite presence. Even now, for instance, she stood there, at a little round table meant to serve at most three, in the ever-select company of Moira Lestrange.

   The last was a common attendant of our home, as was her husband, who had befriended Father on account of their similar profession. It was no wonder, years after, when Declan Lestrange – the proud heir- and I were acquainted, that a certain sense of understanding settled in quite easily enough.

  They were chatting merrily as women – what could one demand of their gender? – often did, and – I narrowed my view further. Something small and all covered in gray was revolving around Mother…hair of a light chestnut, not the darken blond of my own…petite frame…all dirty and jesting…heh, who else but my lovely junior brother? Yes, yes, it was he. Tea had been brought, and he was holding the cup with both hands, as if a bowl of soup. I knew no one else to indulge in this, and while Father often enough warned him against it, naming it a sign of bad mannerisms, his merry smile and mirthful eyes, as he nodded to say he understood stated clearly he'd keep doing this. Ah, Phineas…    

  I couldn't quite claim love for Mother, merely something short to respect and sympathy. She was a woman, after all, and consequently deprived of most the intellectual habits – and even cravings to such- of a man. She never had nor ever would know our knowledge or our degree of worth, and she'd also helped in bringing me forth the world, so how could I not care for her a bit? But it was entirely different with Phineas. Him, I could honestly accept as object of my affections. And he was so loving and entertaining, and delightful, and such a smart child…of course I loved him.

   I blinked off a moment of surprise as sound reached me softly, and I realized Father must have said something. Turning, I found him eyeing me silently, with reprimand conveyed through one stern glare:   

   "The dragon blood," he repeated steadily, choosing to say nothing on my distraction, "will offer it potency and therefore endurance."

   "And just how is it you've run over that particular bit of intelligence, sir?" sarcasm dripped through my words, but I took no note of this. Cocking a brow, I gave him a look of sheer gloom. I hadn't run over in any such sort of information in my collection of tomes, and Merlin knew I'd made a personal habit of consulting and lecturing them little but daily. This could in no way have escaped me. Besides, I was in the mood for a good intellectual gamble:

   "It's not mentioned in any book. I tell you, there's enough dragon blood."

  His scowl deepened. "No, there isn't. Don't choose this precise time to rebel. If heated on a prolonged time, it is formidable for potency potions, no matter what your books say on it."

  A sharp, biting shriek echoed forcefully through the corridors, and then transformed to a series of loud cries. Father and I were both on our feet in an instant. 

  "My child…." Again came a cry, and the voice was Mother's, as much I knew. But…mother…Phineas, I thought. Is Phineas hurt? Is Phineas- 

   "Blood!" came another shout, and this time it had been birthed by a darken figure to have suddenly appeared at the door.

   "Rhosyn?" I tested, brushing a hand over my eyes, as I named one of our house elves.

   She paid me no notice and only eyed Father.

  "Master! It's Lady!" there was unquestionable despair in her words, and she mimicked greatly, again only a sign of ill omen.  "Blood spilling from lady!" she spat, as a tear stripped her cheeks.

   I froze in my place. Time grew my captor, and all too suddenly, I felt cold all over. Mother's words again rang shallow in the back of my mind "My child…" and then the cries, always the cries. Child…blood…Merlin…she was – she had been- she- pregnant? But I hadn't known of any such thing, I had not been informed of it, I had not…I… she couldn't be pregnant! There could not be another heir, I would not allow it, damn it all to hell, I wouldn't! This all was – Mother couldn't be – I…

  One word alone seemed to resume my inner riddle, and I summoned all its power in a short murmur:  "What?"

  Father sped to cross the room, rushing Rhyson in front of him. He only turned to address me, before leaving entirely. An immense pallor had engulfed his features and I knew, it to probably be one that I shared.

   "Call for Merrick at once!" I eyed him, caught aback, before he slipped past the door.

   Merrick…call Merrick. Merrick…who…I clasped both hands onto the sides of my head, then paced forward slightly…what to do, Merrick, Mother crying…child…what child? Merrick…Then cogency took its blessed reign, and that one second – damnable, however insignificant in terms of true period of motion- was forgotten. I reached the nearest quill and scroll, then hurriedly the words were spawn in a negligent, almost chaotic style, so very different from my common manner…

  "Healer Merrick…" I murmured some of the words absently as I noted in great speed "come quick…mother…blood…losing…" I dropped the quill and then dashed out the word, hurrying to the owlery. Even as I did so, silver inking – as was fashionable amidst the missives of our lineage, to replace the much too common jade- sparkled subtly on the last word held on the corner.


  I was to have a brother. And how curious that this announcement would come through such a dreaded display of the flesh's weakness and trifles. My first call was that a natural death, before the dreaded beast could gain its abominable place within my aversions, was a most admirable pursuit indeed. I was quite pleased with that this baby could oblige me by fading away into the oblivion of our memories.

  A few tears from mama, a nice bouquet of flowers from me, and – oh, look, problem solved. No other heir in front of which was to constantly excel, no other little threat for a station I knew with sharp accuracy to belong to me and me alone. True, fate had been most generous in bestowing upon me sweet little Phineas, with no care in the world and, implicitly, no sense in the field of fraternal competition. Phineas didn't want to be the best, just as he didn't want any of what rightfully corresponded to me, and I had been pleased enough by this choice of demeanor on his behalf – so very conflicting to that normally sported by younger brothers in families of our rank-  as to shower him with veritable love.

    But a new sibling, I felt, would not serve my purposes as either willingly or efficiently. So of course it ought to die, why shouldn't it? I wanted it to die, and to blazes with everything else. It deserved to die, and I calmly wagered on my chances in it doing so. A miscarriage wasn't too painful, was it? Well, I wouldn't know.

  Besides, my elementary notions on the affair of the female organism and of the entire process of reproduction granted that, should the child have been in an incipient stage enough as for the pregnancy not to be noticeable – and although I admitted that mother had been, as of late, crowning her commonly delicious taste of garb by a slightly outsized attires to reveal none of her alluring curves, I deemed that I would have noticed had there been any a true enlarging in her body. A pregnancy was not something one could hold back for too long, now was it?  

  So, if she hadn't put on too much weight, then the baby could not have been produced for more than three months – which, on a larger scale, simple pointed to that it wasn't even quite human yet. Which is to say, not a veritable individual. It had no mind, it had no heart – it had to die!

    It couldn't possibly grow to be the weed of my sins and drag me down from the glorious future I knew to await me. It couldn't. I wouldn't let it. It had to die – die- die- die

   And I was quite content with that it was going. Yes…

 …but fact of the matter was, that this – what I was feeling – my very outlook – was not the done thing at all. This sentiment to largely trap all other senses in a thin treacherous net was hardly one on which I could rely. I was an Alchemist, I obeyed only one master, and this was logic. And logic decreed that jealousy was a theorized impossibility, and that it was merely an obstacle for the weak mind and equally flawed spirit. But I wasn't weak. I wasn't flawed.

  I was a Black. Blacks reigned above all impediments with a determination and magnitude governed by intellect and the fortitude of his character. So I would do the right thing – the only thing – that I could.

     I drew the line.

   And silently, I began poisoning my thoughts with lies of caring for the baby, and of wanting it to live. And I told myself I would live past this event, and see to it that I impose upon myself love for the child, no matter the gamble, no matter the cost. There would be no wavering on my behalf of triumphing even in front of this new, admittedly discouraging, obstacle. I was to be free of all jealousy. It was how etiquette demanded it.

   I had never much liked healers. I suspected it to be quite a natural tendency, at least for a trifling young man with presumably no care in the world, and who therefore could not –and should not- be pestered with the ominous breeze of reality and death that the mere presence of a healer would draw. But I had long decided to never be the average foolish heir with hormones waging an own private reign over all senses and control, and it was most likely this promise concerning the endurance of an overall composure to have played a most vital part in my current attitude to healer Merrick.

  I had miraculously managed to maintain a placid, almost benign smirk onto my face for the entire regrettable gathering, and already there were signs of my patience and self-preservation growing very much thin. The very reason why healer Merrick had bothered with an attendance to our home, at the end of an uncharacteristically cold August, had only served to dim my attitude further.

  My sole fortune in the ordeal was that he had finished his task, and he was now preparing to leave. He had even been handed his long dusky cloak, and, under Father's drained look, he could only sport a reassuring smile, - the type only healers can throw, and that, though are meant from the very heart as to encourage, only truly prevail in the exact opposite. It is common knowledge that when a healer indulges in a grimace, then there is more than an ounce of gravity to the entire situation.

   They had emerged from Father's study, where they had lingered rather obnoxiously for a good half an hour after it had happened. It was highly insufferable of them, also not the done thing at all, to keep me so, in the dark, especially since I was only two years from becoming of age, and consequently most reliable. This had several times up to the date been proven, but the most recent addition to a one such fine line of evidence in the respect were the rumors flourishing amidst the properly positioned, of my future naming as Hogwarts' prefect, once I would commence my fifth year. The days were passing, and no owl had yet come, but I expected it to do so any a minute. My educational status was more than substantially suiting, and my demeanor was most appreciated indeed.

  However, in spite of these estimable qualities, Father and healer Merrick had preferred to treat me with infuriating distance. As healer Merrick had pointed, situating himself lower still in my affections, I was, perhaps, much too innocent to handle a discussion concerning it.

   One rarely excelled in the house of the Serpent sans a certain degree of eminence, given how all direct altercations were resolved on the dueling floor and how those other more subtle claims for power were bested only through an even tighter grasp of manipulation and understanding of the old ways. That I had even been proposed for prefect-ship in these conditions spoke quite highly of my endowments in this sense.          

  I had gritted my teeth, prepared a thousand speeches on how I had long now grown a man and deserved my position as such, despite of the two years still left for a general acknowledgment of this, but I was never offered the opportunity to say a word. Father, by one long, scrutinizing look, silenced me instantly.

 In retrospect, it was quite wondrous they had only delayed as much as they had, even though another quarter a clock would have proven quite disastrous to my nerves. I had sought some sort of refuge, sinking slowly on the first steps of the staircase leading up to the first flooring and the family quarters. I had clasped my hands on each side of my head, and I was slightly rocking back and forth, and trying to think, and think, and think, and all my thoughts led to it, and the chaos its analysis succeeded in imposing on my commonly well-organized mind was torture.

  But it had ended, now; they had come out of the study. They were pacing easily through the corridor, making for the door; they were exchanging a few words, with healer Merrick's voice ringing its habitually low tone:  

  "I suggested its removal…but she said ' I could always renounce a new jewel or title. I could never renounce a child.' "

  "What an exceptional remark," said Father, and he had to step aside, for a moment, as between them slid Merrick's cane. Granted, not it alone, but in the shadowy background, this was the likely first impression.

  I blinked off a few times, before gradually making out the small form of one of our house elves. Aristotle was his Black given name, and no one called him anything else, though normally house elves were not reprimanded for the usage of their own desired appellatives. Well, this was quite different. This was the Black residence. He had been first to see Mother, and to realize it had happened, and I believed him to have been as unthinkably shocked as I.

  Only, unlike myself, he actually showed his bewilderment and anguish, and he had spent his time since, running around, seeking something to do, in a fury of motion and little word, and constant tears. He had even punished himself on very numerous occasions. Poor sod. Must be he had thought he could do anything to prevent it. I had attempted to have a word with him – as much as to take my mind from the talk in the study as to calm him- but I hadn't quite got anywhere.      

  Grasping his cane, Merrick advanced a tad more, reaching the door that Aristotle had speedily opened for him. This attracted a small frown on Father's behalf, for he probably did not wish Merrick to think this gesture was an invitation to a swift departure. Our dear healer, however, only sketched another smile, and was quick in pointing to underline otherwise, through a subtle phrase:

"She's an exceptional woman."

"Quite." This was I, finding it suitable to mark my presence by a one response still all too tainted by sarcasm. That they had not shared their conversation with me was unpardonable, by my reasoning, and I saw fault in the both. But since it was not the done thing at all to show anger to one's father, I vaguely attempted to direct it all towards Merrick. The last, however, was either extremely dense or surprisingly wise.

  He said nothing on the matter, merely stepped further, adjusting his cloak.

 "Cassius, I'd best leave you rest as well. This must have been an appalling experience for you. And you, young man," he eyed me slowly, and the flicker of concern in his bluish eyes was unmistakable "I shan't claim to know precisely what happened – there seem to be no signs of any displeasure…. We've only God to thank it was not a miscarriage, but merely a hemorrhage. Do make sure lady Vanora is lavished a few days. It would serve to heighten her spirits, if nothing else. Pregnancies bestow a depressing effect even sans these horrid events, so certain allowances are to be made."


 Father's comment held a certain note of finality that Merrick interpreted as his cue to be off. Silently, with one last glance to us both, he uttered his farewells:

"Goodnight, lord Black." Father nodded in acknowledgment. "Brodick."  I did the same.

"The perspective of a sibling… does it bereave you?"

 We had somehow adjoined in his study, and until then I'd made a visible effort in not voicing my displeasure at his earlier course of action. But the price had been rather demanding. So much so that, not wanting to give in to any indeed overwhelming impulses, I'd indulged in an unbroken silence.

  Father's interpretation of this tranquility was evidently erroneous. My first thought was to deny it vehemently But one glance to him, steadily planted in his chair, with a benign expression somewhat forfeited by a set of deep grayish eyes – unforgivable eyes, as mama called them- told me not to attempt it.

  Sincerity had always played an important part in our relations. I suspected it to be primarily why I, unlike many of my esteemed colleagues, could not join in the conversations waged at the high tables, when one regularly proclaimed adamant hatred for the paternal element and vowed for some sort of vengeance once we'd come of age.

  My thoughts digressed for a moment in recalling the most ardent of such examples, a certain amity of mine, Laurentius Hasek, famed for his wagers on just which, in what time and to what extent all our serpent associates would actually carry out their threats in respect to their sires. Yes, how was dear Hasek? Probably still dealing with his Potions assignments – how anyone could so cherish or even comprehend this subject was to me something of a dilemma. Hasek, nevertheless, had developed quite the obsession for it, and with time he had earned himself something short to a reputation in the field. He even seriously pondered the dreaded perspective of achieving a mastery in it – and he had devoted his entire vacation to his studies, if only to prove to his family he was obdurate in this. So far, he had written, he had made a great deal of progress in specific areas he had always meant to investigate.

  Would that I could claim the same. But, of course, Laurentius Hasek did not quite share my misfortune. He had not recently been informed of his mother expecting a third child, and all this, naturally, when the last had little but suffered a – how had Merrick called it- abortion?

  Oh dear indeed. As heir and fit for my age. I was not ingenuous in the art of copulation. Especially in its consequences. I fully understood my Father's need for carnal display, and, logically, I found Mother's acceptance of his desires as part of her responsibilities as spouse. Refusing one's husband – now that was hardly the done thing. In particular when it was by her doings that Father did not maintain a mistress in the outsides of Hampshire, as many of his class were known to.

  But to mark their seventeenth year of marriage by conceiving for a third, well, one could only expect an amount of antipathy on my behalf! I was heir, was I not? They had my dear brother Phineas, eight years my junior, to ensure that, even in the unfortunate case of my loss or exclusion for any family rights, the lineage would hold a successor. So why a third? No, this was most infuriating. And why hadn't they told anyone – me – anything?

  This was a rather disappointing mentality, I knew, and thoroughly ineffective, since I had had time to think all of it over, again and again, in that time when Merrick had occupied the entire of Father's attentions. After it had happened.   

  Somehow, I was outraged by the perspective of a new sibling. Ironically, I could never think of it as a female companion. Again, paradoxically, my notion of "it" had suffered great change, from event to form. It was then that I knew I had, progressively, accredited the situation. Which hardly meant I was to approve or take pleasure in it. Either its.

  Merely that I had grown slightly more acquainted with the circumstances. I was o the house of the Serpent. I was to endure.

"Should it?" I chanced, belatedly.

  "No." My inquiry shocked him. He showed this only by a subtle shift in his chair, but it sufficed for one who had learned to pick on even the smallest detail and theorize accordingly.

  He laid back a tad, supported his hand to his forehead. And he simply looked at me, for a moment, as if seeing me for the very first time.

  "Of course not. How trifling of me. You've always been one to understand, haven't you, Brodick?" Had he expected any answer, he was most likely disappointed in seeing none would come.  I would not ask any questions then and there. I was in no fit condition to analyze the responses, and what a waste it would be of a possible elucidation.

   I exhaled. Yes, I was gaining control, yet again.

 "And on all accounts, the situation shall in no fashion suffer any adjustments. Why ever would it?" he continued, on an absent tone. He seemed quite caught in his little remembrance. "I never regretted having you that early, you see. Always thought you'd be fit, and, pardoning the language, I'll be damned if I did not equal in that decision the foresight of a veritable Seer."

  He was rambling. Father never rambled. I resumed to following him closely, letting him speak his mind. It was by my belief that there had been some sort of verity to Merrick's words, and that Father truly was a tad engulfed by fatigue. I could not think of any other reasons why he could look so inexplicably pale, and wondrously contemplative. He was commonly a man of great vitality, as expected of one in his late thirties. This sort of drawback was not normally acceptable.

  I still admired his strength of character, however, though I supposed he'd known of Mother's pregnancy all along. There was no trace of bewilderment upon him, at this point, and of course I would have noticed had there at any time been any. I attempted to bring myself to face his response to the situation, just as I had the event itself, an hour before - so I devoted more and more of my attention to analyzing the study rather than keeping track of own emotions.

   Yes, it was as elegantly displayed as always, and Father's desk, the grand luxurious cherry wood flashing its alluring sparkle, crowned the chamber opulently. There were even tomes, piled about, and I had no doubt they viewed Father's favored field – and one in which I too had somewhat excelled- Transfiguration and Alchemy. I did notice, however, a new addition to the collection of tools he kept on the same table; most were for calculus, or even the processes demanded by studies. I'd learned, long ago, that Father's assortment could only be bested in variety by that of Hogwarts'. Still, there was something new.

  A little ivory device of a usage yet unknown to me. I made a note to check for its purpose as soon as time permitted it, but only indulged in its observation to that moment… it was a perfect circle, representing a tied string of orchid. And then, as if slicing it, there was the ivory incarnation of a serpent, the last's presumed writhing head stripping upwards, as if to bite the very air.     

  In spite of attracting my curiosity as apparently serving only as ornament, and Papa had never cared for non-practical devices, I smiled. The serpent invariably reminded me of the Slytherin crest.

  Father, however, took no note of this. He simply carried on:

 "Such a remarkable child… and, of course, your mother needed a child. Some allowances are permitted to women, and this weakness of their nature, the craving for offspring on which to bestow all their affections is one of them. I suspect it gives them a certain reassurance… of still holding full power over something or someone…" he shrugged.

 "It's merely the same with her current whim. Your mother needs a new child to tend for. I expect she would have found fit to burden you with her attentions but, alas, such is hardly possible now, is it?"

  He sketched a faint smile, and I found myself unwillingly replicating it. Yes, it was a tad unattainable, given my age and presumed maturity, and Mama's indubitable expectations from someone she could cuddle incessantly.

 "Fifth year at Hogwarts…most fascinating indeed." I wished I quite share his enthusiasm, but all my previous anxiety had left room for an overwhelming consternation. All too suddenly, I was quite weary. Of everything.

 "Will that be all, sir?"

 He raised his gaze from the flooring to again frame me ominously. "Yes. Yes, Brodick. Simply a last plea. Your mother's state is very much delicate. Her pregnancy is quite a difficult one. Do attempt –"

 "-not to pester her." He looked to me one long moment. It wasn't exactly the height of courtesy to interrupt one's Father when the last was preparing for some grandiose speech in what was and was not the done thing in such circumstances. "Of course, sir."

 "Very well, then. Off you go," said Father, lowering further in his chair. I made for the door, all the time thinking something was ghastly wrong. Papa had never been tired. It was under this sentiment that I stopped briefly to glance to him before stepping out. I caught his eyes still upon me. 

 "Oh-do send Aristotle in. I reckon it must be put to some use, now that Vanora has insisted in keeping it."

  "Master alright?"

 Aristotle's fearful found face greeted me as soon as he closed the door behind me. The deplorable little critter managed to surprise me as much as to even back away for an instant. It was curious how Mother had so persisted in retaining him aside her. Though why so, I could hardly reason.

   There was an elf for the kitchens already – Rhosyn, as Mama kept to the old ways and denied them the prolonging of their own humorous appellatives. Of course, her choice had been a full reflection of her Welsh origins. Nothing else would have been adequate. The other help, Elisse, had somehow escaped Mama's baptism. Then again, she was French, and as the lady of the house so often deemed, if one was to entrust the education of children to such dubious hands for the mere reputation, then one would at least make sure all were in the knowledge of the last's origin. Apparently, to Mama, a French tutor committed, those days, the peak of fashion. So, of course, Elisse had been left to her doings. She was the family governess, and she also aided in affairs of administration.

  There was no need for additional help, by my knowledge. And I prided in a constant awareness of the condition to all surroundings. Besides, Aristotle may have served with devotion, but he also did with clumsiness. Even now, for instance, there was a darken glitter on his hands, that he must have gotten from cleaning the closets. 

  "He is."

  The elf looked distressed: "Totle meant-"

  "I am fine as well." I smiled and nodded. The loyalty of these creatures was ever flattering and at the same time puzzling. "Worry not. Father requests your assistance."

  "Elder Master 'eeved?"

  There was again terror in his voice, then, and I could tell that indulging in precise explanations would only delay me interminably. Placing a hand on the door knob, I grasped the last forcefully.

  "You've done nothing wrong. Aristotle. You've been…good."

  "'Totle good. Good 'Totle." He nodded in turn, as if gradually wishing himself to acknowledge this, under the premise that, so, the "Elder master" would hold him in his graces. "Yes… 'Totle good." 


It was stupid of me to ask. I knew the answer even before it bled the crippled lips of the fledging:

  "Little Master in nursery," he murmured, and again there was that flicker of great sadness in his eyes that I could never quite explain. Nor tolerate, by that matter. One would have thought that this sort of lamentable expression would only suit his composure. Somehow, it didn't, and between the rags he bore and the stains of dirt, there was only a certain distasteful nobility to him. The last mostly drew from his eyes. Big blue eyes like his always had a stunning effect.

  I somehow managed to break from my contemplation and, on a much too startled tone for own liking, I murmured:

  "Many thanks, Aristotle. Do attend to Father." I made to tell him he'd best remove the glitter off, but the words died on my lips. He seemed miserable enough as it was. Fingers tightened on the knob, and I took to rotating it slightly. He stepped forward, with evident reluctance, then stopped only to look up to me again:


 His whisper was barely audible, and even he seemed ashamed of the imploring quality of his voice, for his eyes lowered to the floor. I decided to be charitable. He was going to Father, after all. However, even in spite of my willed benevolence, the exasperation in my words was unmistakable:

  "Yes, Aristotle?"

  "Little master…not well, sir."

  I froze in my place – for a moment I knew not what to say, and his pleading eyes came hardly to relieve me of my misery. Phineas…this was indeed most disturbing news. Phineas was never "not well". Phineas was my little brother of remarkable magnitude in the field of joviality of wishful thinking, the one of the two who favored dreams and tales and filtered them not through patterns of the "done thing". I sighed. Not yet, any a way

   Aristotle was glaring to me with open curiosity, and I realized I must have again fallen prey to my reflections. The door opened with ease. I motioned to it.

  "Go on." Halfheartedly, he did.


 There was something vaguely disturbing about the small face to meet me with a timid smile and, surprisingly, neither the extreme pallor nor the sharp touch of grayish cobalt eyes was it. The nursery had been paradise of my dreams for many a years, and then it had passed on to a most ardent Phineas, who still tended for it on occasion. It was wonderfully opulent, as everything at the manor, and its "points de la bonne bouche" were two magnificent pieces Father had b inherited as well, and that supposedly dated t two centuries before. These were the swing, meant to balance a tiring woman with the child, and, of course, the cradle. Both white, pure ivory, and heavily adored. Mother's beloved little minutiae.

  My one objection in concern to the chamber was its lack of proper lighting. Built to serve as sleeping quarter, this deprivation was indeed acceptable for early mornings or the day time should one wish to rest. But it was highly displeasing to a youngster of certain awareness, to be overly engulfed by the shadows when slightly older… the ensemble left place for imagination, and I could recall a few many nights spent eyeing the windows, thinking the wind would come steal my magical talent. It was never a matter of personal safety. I had always been told there was no greater disgrace to a Black than being oblivious to magic.  

   He was spread on the floor when I came in, and there was a bundle of old toys he'd not touched for years laying beside him.

  "Yes." I paced forward, in those few places of light. "Don't you rather think you're a bit beyond age for this?"


  I tested further: "Don't you plan to leave this place at any a time?"



  "Just leave." He shrugged, and then trailed a small toy golden snitch on the carpet. "He'll came take it from me soon, any a how."

  "The babe?"


  This was indeed something short to a shock, though it quite oughtn't have. I knew from own experience that it was tradition between Blacks that all hands be played in the open, and that the little said "secrets" of the age be only a matter of question and immediate answer. Ignorance was warmly greeted in children, since this granted the adults a certain sense of stability and belief that they held an undying superiority simply on account of that which they held back. It was for this exact reason why the Blacks were instructed in most fields at young ages. No one would ever hold an advantage over a Black, no matter the state of infancy.

  So tutoring did come, on such matters. First the grand mystery of etiquette and the done thing, then the secret of Mother's womb, the Sorting details and then the tangles of the art of dueling. Copulation was something we did not quite converse, and on which we were to carefully introduce ourselves by own merit. All the knowledge we were passed on, however, followed in a steady rhythm. I recalled it absently. Yes, at his six years, Phineas would know a child was kept nine months in the womb of his mother – no explanations here on how it ever got there… but what more? Would he know about miscarriages? About the troubles of heirs?  

  Frowning, I clung to something more tangible. "Not aye – yes. There's not an Irish root in your body. Nor Scottish." 

  "Ay-Yes. The babe. I loathe it. It'll take my nursery. And my toys." The golden snitch all too suddenly encountered an invisible impediment on the mat and was thrown back with such force due to the impact, that it was launched well into the opposing wall, in spite of his hands' efforts to keep it down. Either that, or Phineas tossed it there.

  "You've no use for them any longer. You never fancied them, anyway."

  He rose his glare from the flooring, met and challenged my own, in a subtle scowl that I had learned to decipher as his mark of stubbornness. "I did."

  "You threw most of them out." I shrugged. "Moreover, the babe shan't have need for your toys. It'll be too little."

  His eyes seemed to light up, and there was a certain flicker of sarcasm and malice in his words when he next inquired:

  "And for my nursery?"

  "The same."

  My answer appeared to have prevailed in startling him. Obviously, the thought of his being permitted to remain master of his play grounds had never occurred to him in probable terms. But he recovered quite easily from his puzzle, and he addressed me, in an almost silent mutter that held back nothing on the spite:

  "Well, it's not too little to slay Mama, is it?"

  I was surprised, and at the meantime amused. But the former won and with great ease; to view one's sibling as an intolerable and gruesome burden on one's shoulder or the family honor is one thing – to believe him a perfect murderer even when instilled in the mother's womb is another entirely. The worst was, however, that I could hardly commence a thorough explanation on the most natural process of birth and its stages, since that would lead me to the very root of the trouble. Copulation. And while the last could be somehow elucidated, there was also the problem of explaining under what circumstances this was or was not the done thing, and why certain gentlemen and ladies endeavored in it, though none spoke of it publicly. I was quite assured he would view it as any other draining, fruitful and enjoyable activity – just like Quidditch- and then kindly demand it be instilled as a topic for dinner conversation. And that, for all it was worth, would simply not do.

  I mentally cursed Father for not instructing his youngest in the field of love making as well.

  "Phineas… the youngling is not slaying Mother."

  It was all he was waiting for to spit out his full incense: "She bled today! I saw it! I was there. Aristotle was serving tea, and aunt Moira- "

  "Moira Lestrange is not our aunt." I marked, patiently. And she wasn't. A close amity of Mama's, and her spouse one of Father's. And Declan Lestrange one of my own. So maybe Phineas had been seeing too much of the Lestranges, around…

  "-she was telling mama how good it will be to finally have a worthy junior! And she said the babe would be so much better, and Mama said it will be so very loved, and…and…why won't the babe settle for that?" he eyed the wall with clear hatred, and then he bent to reach for the dawned snitch. The last had sheltered between the folds of the carpet, but Phineas' skillful little hands took grasp of it rapidly. And forcefully. He pushed on it, and tried to split it in twos, and when he couldn't he begun to toss it vigorously to the ground, then take it back and repeat this incessantly. I had no doubts he imprinted the treatment he felt would best suit the unborn sibling to the toy:  "Does he have to kill her?"

  "For the very last time, no one is slaying Mama."

  "Yes, it is!" Again, I became target of the venomous little darts his eyes launched mercilessly "Mama was all calm when Aristotle brought the tea, and then she jumped in her place, and there was a crimson stain on her gown, and then she started crying-" he threw the snitch back down, and, sickened by the gesture, I kneed at his side until, I on my knees, and he standing up, we were indeed face to face. But at least I had the snitch. 

  "And I know it was the babe hurting her inside, for Aristotle had served the tea well today, and he hadn't dropped it, like he normally does, so she wasn't upset on his account! Mama doesn't want the babe either, I tell you, it's killing her-" he choked on his words.

   "Calm yourself," I murmured, with a touch of exasperation. It was hardly to him, however, but myself. I had been under the impression I could handle this. It was growing fairly evident that all was not going by the rhythm of my intentions.

   "-it's killing her!"


   " –it's killing her!" his voice had gained the sharp resolve of a steel blade, and there was little but an accusation bleeding his lips. His eyes were not as hesitant. 'And you're letting him kill her' they said. 

   "Stop it!"


  I had to slap him. I did. The aftermath still hurt, however. The look in his eyes, as he clutched both hands on his newly reddened cheek, was crushing. There was so many accusations in one little glare, that I thought I would soon start trembling, were I to gaze upon him any longer. I rose and turned from him. I knew he would not hold me responsible – he was young, true, but he also held the family spirit, and a certain tendency towards a fast and accurate understanding of most things, so I suspected he realized he held as much fault in the occurrence as I. More so, if I dared myself the assessment. But as I heard the negligent rub of robes onto skin, and then something close to a deep inhaling, I knew he was valiantly fighting to keep back tears.

   Phineas never cried with such great theatrical effects as most children his age did – he never accompanied each weep with sobs of studied length and intensity, and he never took on a puffy expression. He never pouted, either. No, Phineas cried just as he – and us all – did everything, with the Black dignity and the Black composure.

   I realized he was partly ashamed for his exposure, the moments before, and I wanted to tell him that letting emotions get the best of him in such situations was acceptable and that he shouldn't mourn the momentary loss of his sense; but, somehow, I felt this would only serve in heartening him to his tears further, on account that my recognition of it as a loss of sense meant it had held indubitable gravity. So I let him cry for all it was worth.

    And I only returned to face him when, on a simple, low whisper, he said:

   "Darius doesn't care for the babe either. He thinks it's a monster. " This drew my attention.

   "Darius?" I mouthed, unable to hide a certain sense of curiosity mixed with exasperation.

   "Yes." He added quickly "But don't worry. He fancies you."

  Somehow, finding myself in Darius' graces failed to compliment me as much as Phineas' broad smile noted it should have. Nearing his former swing, I made to sit. The seat rocked me forward in an indolent movement. Phineas regarded me inquisitively.

    Of course. Darius. How stupid of me.

 I had always known of my sibling's little oddities and, as expected of a wiser elder brother, I had learnt to overcome the obstacles they invariably constituted. As most of us, in times of great despair, Phineas sought to retreat within a realm of his own. This pursuit, however, did not resume solely to crises and them alone. Throughout time, a series of imaginary amities – he claimed them demons he could summon at will- had found him worthy of their company, and had also chosen to mark their presence by some pestering demeanor that only took place in sheer solitude. Save for dear Phineas. So it was that vases of great valor were broken and these demons were blamed. Toys were ruined, and rugs were stained, and of course dear Phines had someone to pass the guilt onto. Declan Lestrange had claimed to have had such a select entourage in his early youth as well. He had also mentioned his Father's manner of dealing with them had been by calling the reprimands on him, given how "one is responsible for the deeds of one's guests." And the "demons" were presumed guests.

  Would that they left Phineas. After a while, I 'd universally decreed them as my brother's manner of distancing himself and the "done thing" from the more vile part of his persona – by giving the last a supposed "life" of its own. I had to think of it this way. I had long been acquainted with a few inner rumors of hereditary insanity circling our bloodline, and for the sake of the Black declared supremacy over any other lineage, I was to discard them subtly. Which did not mean they did not prevail in startling me horribly. Merely that I attempted to ignore them.   

  So great was my absence of mind that it took me a moment for me to realize Phineas was saying something:

   "I'll have Darius kill the babe before it murders Mama!"

This disturbed me. Inner competition, I could comprehend. It was merely the enormous age gap and Phineas being such an adorable little twit that had kept it from developing in any of our intercourses, but I knew it to be a common and quite encouraged ordeal between siblings. So, normally, a certain struggle for our parents' affections was to be expected. And a degree of dislike.

   But the sheer hatred Phineas exhibited was discouraging indeed. I would have narrowed it on shock – but something, a sharp flicker of awareness in his eyes, warned that to not give this claim the gravity it deserved was to commit quite the error.

    "I'll have none of that. How dare you?" He'd never heard me yell at him. Never seen me truly angered. So he was scared, now, and he showed his fright by backing away slightly.

    "How dare you behave so childishly when Mother is as she is? How dare you after all that's happened?" I was taking my anger on him, and that was not good at all. His lips began to tremble. I shouted further "How ruddy dare you?"

   "I-I… " he sobbed. Dignity and a certain sense of indignation alone kept him from crying. "I just hate him! He's killing her!"

  There he was again. I couldn't take another round of this. He noticed his repetition – he was a smart chap, for all it was worth, he was my brother, after all – and he lowered his head. When he raised it again, he was scowling.

   "And I hate you for not hating him!" Merlin save me from wearisome six-year olds.

   I sighed "Phineas, this is not what Mother needs right now.  And she – as I – as Father – will have none of this. The child is an heir, just as he is a son. And a sibling to you. And you'll love him." I decreed, calmly, with a firmness I doubted he could mistake. "Even if I have to hex the love out of you."

   I couldn't let him see how much a hold his words had on me. I couldn't let him know how much I wished to be the one voicing them. So I did the one thing I could do.

   I left.  

     "Brodick, old boy!"

  I had expected a great many things and an equal number of persons to adjoin, soon after. But Declan Lestrance, his merry face and generous smile so very unfitting to the ominous circumstances, did not come as part of this merry category. I had been taking a stroll through the gardens – a silly little habit, as one can guess, but with remarkable results in calming my senses – and the overwhelming dusk had managed to bathe on my fury and probe to its very cores. Introspection was not something that I commonly tolerated, and, for the past few good minutes, I had come to realize it may have just been a worthy pursuit. I had obtained, after a few less jovial instants, to be at peace with myself, and again logic had drawn the line, and I had had to simply lower my head and nod whilst confronted to a perilous prospect.

  I was hardly in control of the situation, and this was something I could not afford, and there were great many causes for this unfortunate situation with strong roots in my own behavior.

 My first capital error had been, of course, never pondering the event. It was true that neither Mother nor Father had made any note as to how they would ever desire another spawn, let alone actually share an assessment into ever undergoing the carnal labor that was reproduction. But, on a rational basis, this was an alternative that should never have escaped me, and for which I should have been prepared. Fact of the matter was, I had been caught off guard.

  Secondly, Phineas and I should never have had that little conflict. At the time, I had been greatly distressed by my infuriating incapacity of doing anything concerning the entire situation. Phineas himself had been most startled by what he had witnessed ; his own mother in pains and bleeding, all on account of a sibling he certainly could not bring himself to even accept, let alone cherish. My approach to him had also lacked in the affectionate quality he had most likely awaited and deserved, and I had thrown in my fury as much as his own. So I had failed in diplomatic efforts, as well.          

   Two grand disappointments, so very disconcerting. I couldn't dishearten. I was the Black heir. I was to excel. I had to.  

   It was no wonder, therefore, that I was rightfully surprised when, directing his tool in an elaborate descent, Declan Lestrange had come by my side. Reflexively, my wand snapped up as little but darken extension of my hand, jerked towards his chest. I lowered it when he greeted me with his far too luminous smile, dropping his broom to the ground. I framed the last in a subtle frown. The sight of brooms always had the gift of reminding me of my complete futility in the domain – the only mean by which I could ever get a broom in the air was to levitate it there.   

 "Awful bit on your mother, what can one say?" he said, throwing an arm over my shoulders. We began pacing forward. "My own hag went through a bit of a weep, but, well, she always does that, so, no worry. Listen, I've been wandering-"

  Oh, how I knew what was to follow! And while in normal conditions, his company would have done me good – and even now I pondered it for a moment, since he might have somewhat soothed me in such time- I feared it would be unwise to sample the Black hospitability, given how mother was so unwell. I raised my hands, palms kept outwards, and calmly set to back away:

      "Declan, I'm no disposition for receiving."

     "-Brodick!" His face was the mask of sheer indignation. This came as  quite comical, since his face would suit fairly any expression but that. He was immensely tall – and I spoke from the perspective of one estimated as of more than impressive height myself – and equally thin, but his most marking trait was the mane of burgundy hair, wildly clutched in a discrediting tail. His eyes, a bizarre cobalt, seemed to contain an eternal flicker of laugh in them, which made it impossible for him to portray the required gravity at any a time.  

  "How crude do you think me? In no way would I ever seek to impose under such dreadful circumstances, and-"

  "Not even for one night." I shook my head, offering a sad smile. Immediately, puzzle dawned upon him, and he even gasped:

     "Oh, come on, Brodick, have a black little heart!" I bravely attempted to make no note of the pun. "Had myself an awful row with Father…"

     This was no surprise. "You always do. Why not go to Hasek's? I'm sure he'll love to have you. He's not particularly in speaking terms with his own, these days."  

  Of course Laurentius Hasek would share his misfortune, but, then again, few were those who could manage a decent conversation with good old Hasek sans being overrun by his abundant sarcasm. But this was hardly the issue due to which his relations to his parents had succumbed to a more morbid nature, as of late. A mastery in Potions was view as a most academic and highly intellectual achievement, true. But, much like Alchemy, it had no true future in view of a profession. Little if any money was made, and while this may have been no great dilemma for Father and I, as heirs to a formidable fortune and with no care in the ruddy world, the same could not be told of the less ostentatious Hasek lineage. Healers, most of them, or in trades, they couldn't quite fully comprehend Laurentius' genius in a field with which they had never bothered.

  So they damned his choice. And so he revolted. Such a wonderful little family. A pity he, unlike Declan, did not reside in Hampshire, or at least in the close vicinity. Not too keen on the broom either, he couldn't come over for visits and escape his dreaded condition all too often.    

     "Really now, Brodick, a simple no would have done the trick, no need to sentence me to certain death or the likes! Dear Gods, the place he has is downright horrible! None of the plants he holds were meant for the purposes he offers them, I'll tell you that much! Hell, he'd even make Salazar twist in his grave in hearing what he's got in there- no way – no how."

   I smiled uneasily: "Well, then, fair fortune in returning amidst your Father's favors by the end of the night."

    "Meh…I suppose I could kick the elves out for a night… Bloody things, these ones! And kinky, as well!" I had no intention in finding out just how he'd run over that particular piece of intelligence.

    "That bad, was it?"

    "Mhmmm…."…" His hand rushed over his forehead, setting aside the loose hairs, only succeeding in making it look messier than before. Privately, I thanked the new fashions that accepted short haircuts, as my own.

    "Whatever on?"

    "Oh, you know…his wretched little studies. Asked of him to take me to London these days, to Diagon Alley, to pick up a new broom.  It takes no Diviner to tell what he said."

    "No." He nodded.

    "Precisely. And it's not like I ask him too much and on too many occasions…so maybe he gets me out of some tight spots at times, but, honestly, he's not presented me that new collection of robes I demanded either!" this brought a new smile on my face "He's being so insufferable, and Aidan" exasperation was written all over his face at the mention of his brother "is being such a git as always – and I just wanted my damned broom! Is that too much to ask for?"

    "Hmmm? No. Of course not. What reason did he invoke?"

    "Oh…you know…nonsense…old news…something of a new reunion…but he could have found himself the time!"

    My attention was actually well requested, for a change: "Indeed. Another of their reunions?"

    'Yes. He said it was serious. He always says that." He shrugged "Though I expect there might be some truth to it now. The entire Order of Change is coming together. It's about that new treaty presented to the Ministry. This Grindewald seems to mean what he says." Trust Declan Lestrange to belittle one of the greatest Alchemists of all times to a mere "this Grindelwald". 

   "On imbuing magical abilities to the human entity?" Now it was my turn to scowl broadly "Now that is nonsense, Declan." Again, he only shrugged.

   "The Ministry doesn't seem to think so. They oppose it constantly, of course." Of course. We'd reached the manor by now, and good Grimmauld was looking its finest from the shadows. With Declan's earlier innuendo, before, I couldn't quite invite him for dinner without bringing his company for the rest of the eve on, and I couldn't do this to Mother, and Phineas – Declan had always had a certain knack for teasing Phineas, and he didn't need that now, and-

  I drew in. Far too many issues I would have normally deemed utterly insignificant now prevailed in birthing sheer chaos in my normally organized mind. All too suddenly, the rumors of insanity having lingered in our blood lineage swept me by, and I found this illogical enough – I wasn't mad, for Merlin's sake- as to do the sole right thing. I drew the line.

  Rapidly, and to his evident dissatisfaction, even though he had common sense enough as to not word upon it, I turned Declan and myself towards where his broom laid still abandoned. We paced yet again.  

   "Grindewald is mad. Then again, he is quite young," I commented, attempting to revive our conversation.

   "Aye." This snapped wording unwillingly brought Phineas to mind. "But I bet he has a new broom!" His hearty laughter drew in my own, and we both kept on this merry attitude. This had to be Declan's finest quality – not everyone could be so light, so dynamic, so openly alive in spite of all etiquette demanded. Mayhap, in all his apparent negligence, Declan was the best such player of us all. He could keep to the rules, yet remain himself.

  Would that I could share this sort of view on all circumstances. Alas, however, I had earlier decided jealousy was not the done thing so, in order to avoid all occasions that could aid in its apparition, I gave this particular affair no more thought.

  Let Delcan be as he wished to be. I was Brodick Black, and heir to the noble house of Black, and therefore our responsibilities were different entirely.

   "I regret being unable to give you a hand, Declan. But things at the Manor are-"

   "-in quite the muddle. Yes, I know. 'twas stupid of me to even ask it of you." He eyed the ground, for a moment, though at no time ceased walking. It was a habit of his, to avoid direct eye contact whenever admitting own errors was concerned. He seemed to think it a greater burden for his wild spirit if the humiliation of an acknowledged "audience" was added. "How…how are you dealing with the whole of it?"

   "You know…a new brother…honestly, after that twit of a second of yours, one would think your old man would have understood reproduction was an effort only once worth the time…"

   I smiled. "Phineas isn't that bad, Declan."

   "He's not a thing like you!" He remarked rather loudly, shooting me a slightly questioning glance.

   "Mayhap that's for the best." I shrugged.

   "And you're not in the least insulted by this new heir?"

   Bewilderment overwhelmed me, and I was inattentive enough as to express it: "Insulted?"

   "Well, it's not quite like they told you beforehand."

   "I wasn't quite yearning for a report on all their intimate intercourses either." We both smiled, he more knowingly then I. It was to my understanding that he had made such a request to his father, after the birth of his own junior brother Aidan, a much too talkative fiend that I secretly thought of as holding great chances at growing a sheer idiot.  

  Declan caught on with ease:  "Oh, but can you picture it? Your dear old Father and mum rutting a tad-" The imagery was devastating. I drew in.

   "-and then, your old man stopping in between to write a few lines for his dear eldest! Imagine if they ever ran out of ink! Whatever would they use?"

   "Declan…" I stopped to eye him with feigned gravity. "You frighten me."

   "Least I can do for Hogwarts' newest prefect!" He accompanied this with a surprisingly elegant reverence. This succeeded in reminding me of yet another probable failure. True, the Hogwarts owls had not come to deliver the book list – and with them the official welcoming within the prefect ranks that was normally there included- but I was far too great a cynic at the time to think it was still a valid possibility:

   "So…off to fend down Laurentius' plants?"

   "Heavens, no! I've a few sickles to spare…you got a few yourself?" I immediately threw a hand in the one pocket of my velvetish cloak, and obliged in searching whatever sickles or galleons I might have had on. I never normally went anywhere sans proper a little monetary support, so this wasn't likely to prove a fruitless quest. He continued:

  "I'm thinking that if I go and get obnoxiously drunk at some inn, they'll pity on me and let me sleep on the counter."

  I tossed him the money, and he received it with a smile, only to then mount swiftly on his clever little broom and fly off.

 Dear old Declan. Given the number of times in which he and his father argued, one would think he would have taken the time to build himself an extra entrance…

  It was abominably dark when I managed to enter the manor, much to the dismay of Rhyson, who I dearly suspected of having locked all entrances firmly, most likely as what she deemed a suiting reprimand for having missed on dinner. Truthfully, after Declan's disappearance, all the mirth to accompany him seemed to have dissolved, and I found myself distracted enough so to lengthen my stroll. I regretted not having urged him to linger, a few moments, especially when I was forced to kick the door open and mask all noise through a well-planted "Silencio".

   Damned Rhosyn. She should have known an Alohomora's performance against the wretched holds Father had installed was reduced to a sheer nullity. I had half the mind to revive the memory of such a lesson through a nice hexing at breakfast – rather, before it. The Black Code of Honor dictated all complaints in view of the personnel and the according reprimand be dealt before the commencement of any more imperious activities. And, as greatly as this may have shocked Mother, liaisons to a house elf were most certainly beneath the most important meal of the day, in my list of priorities. 

    Sweeping through the corridor, I made no effort to cast a benevolent "Lumos". It was far too demanding of me, at the time, and I also risked making my presence far too known. Mother, I knew, was in her chambers, resting. Phineas was most likely asleep, or feigning such a ordeal, as was his custom when he wished for his "conversations" with his "friends" to not suffer interruption. And I could always count on Father to have disapparated at the Ministry or the Order of Change's current favored location of reunion.

  So I was, come to think of it, rather alone.

  And so was one little fire whiskey bottle I knew Father kept in his drawers in the receiving room. I could use a drink, as much I knew, so reason was quickly abandoned when faced to the promise of such sweet oblivion.

  Calmly, I paced to the quarter. Dusk greeted me here as well, save for the more dim figures reflected in what I knew to be a formidable piece of the fifteenth century – an immense mirror, worthy of any a ball room, that also engulfed one of the main walls.

  But this was not my objective. Somewhere, in night's bliss, there was a fire whiskey bottle. And if it wasn't calling for me, I certainly was calling for it.

  It was then that I did call on my little magic, and all too soon the lively sparkles were born at hand of the elegant mahogany wand. Slowly, I turned to face the cabinet – and immediately, I froze in my place.

   There were markings on the grand mirror, and ones no one could truly mistake. I could not keep back a gasp, it was utterly impossible. Blood still dripped from where one had carelessly encrypted words that poisoned my thoughts as I attempted to take them into consideration. I paced back, a tad, dropped my wand. It made no difference. The words hung still in my mind.

     " The …abomination…shall …not…know…life…"