Title: Feathers, Bones, and Shells
Author: Tirya King
Summary: A mother and her son contemplate each other on the last days of their lives.
Disclaimer: I discovered to my immense surprise and delight that Harry Potter did indeed belong to me!!! …then I woke up. Oh yeah, 'Feathers, Bones, and Shells' and 'Gartan Mother's Lullaby' belong to singers that I can't recall right now, but they're not mine.
Feedback: Does a body good!
Spoilers: The last chapter takes place right before the main event of OotP so if you haven't read it, don't read this. Also, the first chapter may not make sense if you haven't read the book anyway.
A/N: sigh Why must I always stick up for the villains? Oh well. This is my own little tribute to a mother who loves her son… even if she doesn't know it. I'll probably be lynched for doing this for Mrs. Black, but really people, she's a fun person to jump inside the mind of! I think there was much more going on behind the scenes than Miss Rowling said.
This is a flashback!!!
Feathers, Bones, and Shells
Part One: Requiem for a Mother
The sound of my heart
Is ancient and true
And it sings like a thousand bells
For sorrow and grace
For my love of you
The feathers, the bones, and the shells
She knew she was dying. She had been for some time. Some form of cancer, the Healers had said. There was no cure, not among the most specialized of Healers. Some had suggested a Muggle form of treatment. The idea was quickly cast aside. It would only prolong the inevitable, prolong the pain. Such a thing would suck out her beauty as well, any remaining dignity the noble lady possessed. No, no Muggle thing would ever touch her for as long as she lived!
Such a young age to die, mused Lady Black as she climbed slowly up the stairs. Surely 53 years was not enough to accomplish all that one needed to do before death? Especially now that there was no one left. But then… perhaps it was not such a terrible thing. She had outlived her immediate family by many many years. Now in this large lonely house, the woman felt incomplete, longing for something. Death offered her completion.
At her heels, Victoria heard her faithful House Elf tuttering over her. He was a sweet thing, really. He truly did care what happened to her. It was nice to know someone did, no matter how insignificant they were.
"Kreacher," she said in her strong voice, betraying none of her pain or exhaustion. "I will take my tea in my room this afternoon. Then I will rest. Wake me for supper if I am not awake already."
"Yes, Mistress," Kreacher chirped immediately. "But Kreacher would help Mistress to her room first. He does not want her to fall."
"As you will," she replied. A year ago, a month ago, she would have coldly ordered him to the kitchen. Now, though, she knew he had a point. Even climbing the staircase was becoming too much of a chore these days. It was tiring, slow work to move up and down when one's insides felt rotten and weak. Last week even, she had lost her footing and would have fallen to her death if it hadn't been for her servant who had snapped his fingers and caught her in his magical web.
Finally, the room came within sight. The hard part was over. Now all she had was to reach her sitting table near the window and all would be well. She heard her Elf move to fetch her tea and stopped him. "Kreacher, include my herbs for pain and to ease breathing."
"Yes, Mistress," he bowed and scampered away, his ears flopping with his movements. She sank with a sigh into her large cushioned chair. Was she really so old that she could not even walk across her home without a need for rest? Glancing at herself in the window, she knew she was. Gray streaks ran through her once long raven locks. Her sharp blue eyes were growing dull and lines marred her face. Her body, once slim and graceful, thinned so much that the skin sagged in places where there was no more muscle.
Though aged, one could still see the regal woman that yet held control over the body. She was nothing if not dignified. Even in the comfort of her own home, with no one to see her weakness, she would not allow it to show. It had been a grand performance perfected during her youth, and she played it still. No one would see she was weak. Not her servant who was surely not as thick as he seemed, and not herself, who felt every shift of her aching bones.
Victoria alone knew what it was to become old. Her husband died 20 years ago last May. Her youngest son not yet 10 years ago. Her eldest, well, if he were not dead already, he wouldn't be able to understand what it was to grow old anymore. If he even knew his name it would be a miracle.
No, no, she mused, placing a well-manicured finger to her lips in thought. Sirius was always exceptional. He was a Black, of course he would be magnificent, that was a given. For all the bitterness and grief that clouded her heart when it came to her eldest, she knew enough to admit his gifts. If there was a way to survive in that god-forsaken prison, her son would find it. Of that, she was sure.
She couldn't help but chuckle darkly. Backstabbed the Potters, and killed a wizard and 12 Muggles besides… it was absurd! Even she, who would sooner curse him than admit his lineage, could not believe such a thing of him. A disappointment to the family to be sure, a ne'er do-well most certainly, but a slaughterer of innocents even if they were Mudbloods? She could no more believe that of her honorable boy than of herself. Lady Black chuckled again at the look on dear Sirius' face if he knew that the only one who believed him innocent was the woman he damned to Hell.
Many years had come and gone since she heard anything about Sirius. He had been taken to prison about 4 years ago and in that time, she had a lot of time to think as his memory became lost in the general public. She knew that as the lone matriarch of a dying family of nobles, she had to protect that family like a she-wolf. Nothing could taint the line. And that included such blood traitors as her failure of a first-born. As a woman herself, Victoria's heart broke to cut him from the family. He had run on his own, no mother could throw her son out to the streets. But she would not go back on what she had to do. And the mother inside grieved for her lost son even as she blasted his name off the family tree.
Her musings were interrupted by the rattling of china. Kreacher waddled through the mahogany door, his ears the only things visible behind the large pot and the cup beside it. A tray of biscuits she could never finish was balanced on top of his balding head. He too was growing old and she suddenly just realized it. He was in his prime when young Victoria, a blushing bride then, was first introduced into the family. And he had served throughout the years, outliving his own kin, before becoming the lone servant of the mansion.
"Set it next to the bed," she told him as he looked at her curiously. Usually when she took her tea in this room, it would be on the table before her. However he did as he was told without question.
"Mistress," he began hesitantly. "Mistress seems troubled. Is there anything for Kreacher to do? Anything to ease her dilemma?"
"No, Kreacher, you can not help me. It is nothing. Just the musings of an old woman. I was thinking about Sirius, that was all. Wondering I did right by him."
He immediately paused from the pouring of tea at the sound of her voice. On the surface, it was flippant and uncaring, but he hadn't served the Black family for decades and learned nothing. He could hear the inflection of her voice quite clearly. It had been years since her voice wavered like that, as though unsure of herself. Surely that could not be so! Mistress was a wise and fine lady. What could she possibly be uncertain of?
It was a minute or so before the House Elf spoke next. His former young Master's name had not been uttered in this house for 6 years. It was as though the first-born Black had never existed, and that was the way Lady Black had wanted it. But he couldn't not speak once directly spoken to.
"Mistress did all she could to do right by the boy. Hot-tempered he was. Stubborn and reckless. His faults are not to be blamed on Mistress. He is a blood traitor and now he rots in Azkaban where he belongs."
"My last remaining family," she sighed, "and he wastes away in a prison, surrounded by dementors, when he should be here, watching over his poor sick mother."
"Mistress is too kind to worry for that traitor," Kreacher scoffed gently. "He was ungrateful and would not listen to Mistress' wisdom. He would have sullied the bloodline if given the chance, just to spite Mistress. He befriended half-breeds, fools, menaces, and Mudbloods. He was not worthy of his name."
"No," she agreed. "I suppose he wasn't. I shouldn't have thought he was worth my compassion. I would have done anything for him. Anything he wanted, all he had to do was ask me. But he abused it, became spoiled and disgruntled. He is a blood traitor and deserves to be wallowing in filth rather than in this mansion, waiting for me to die so he could inherit it all."
Inwardly she sighed. 'But how I miss him so. Him and his brother.' Her husband she never knew well enough to miss in her old age. Theirs was a political marriage, arranged by their parents who both came from pure and noble lines. They got along fine, even became friends towards the end of Castor's life, but there was little romance involved. Her true joy lay in her children. She would teach them everything. They would be the noblemen they were born to be and never want for anything.
They were each her precious treasures, more valuable than all the wealth her husband could grant her. And each very different. Her youngest had been chosen out of default to continue the family. Her poor little angel, cut down long before his time. Her dear 'little lion king.' How brave he was to stand up to that traitor Voldemort who had asked him to kill innocent purebloods as well as those miserable mudbloods.
Yet her youngest born, noble and brave as he was, had always lacked the fire that made up his ancestors. He agreed with his parents, which would please any parent, but Lady Black noticed something else. He would agree because his brother would disagree, or because his parents simply said it was so. Adored by his mother, as was the family baby's right, Regulus nevertheless was not destined to be the leader the family needed. No, that spot was taken by a mere whelp of a disappointment.
Sirius, her 'bright shining star', was her eldest by two years. He had all the fire and spirit that would make any parent proud. A sharp mind, keen sense of pride, the finest breeding, and the looks to wrap up any loose ends. Named for the passionate and bright star, it was obvious from the day he was born that he would be strong. He always wanted to be heard, needed his opinions to be known and his feelings heeded.
The wail of a baby rang throughout the house, waking all occupants immediately. Castor rolled over in bed miserably putting a pillow over his head. "Does the child never sleep?! He hasn't quieted once since bringing him home!"
Victoria sat up sleepily, realizing the futility of even attempting to sleep. Her little one truly hadn't let his family sleep in over a week. One thing was for certain, he had inherited his mother's pair of lungs. Any of her relatives could attest to that.
"I'll take him, Castor," she offered out of habit. She knew that he would not budge from that bed until the morning came, crying babe or no. Besides, children were for House Elves and mothers. He neither knew nor wished to know how to care for a baby.
"Let Kreacher do it," he groaned. "You haven't slept either since he came home. I do not want a sick wife as well as a screaming baby."
"Nonsense," Victoria huffed as she wrapped her robe around her elegant silk nightgown. "Kreacher frightens him. Besides, I am his mother. If I cannot calm him, who can?"
Castor sighed and clutched the pillow tighter over his head. "As you will, Lady." Then nothing came more from him other than disgruntled sighs of uneasy sleep.
The nursery was a few doors down from the main bedroom, yet even with shut doors and silencing charms, her son could be heard loud and clear. If this was what it was to have children, Victoria silently vowed to remain chaste and barren for the remainder of her days. Her mother had gone on and on about the rewards of motherhood, but she had yet to see any thusfar. A torrential pregnancy and a newborn who cried himself into exhaustion. Was it too late to send the boy back to the hospital?
Opening the nursery, she waved her wand. The enchanted night sky on the ceiling produced a shining full moon so she could see properly without blinding herself or her son. Leaning over the crib was her House Elf trying his hardest to placate his new Master. His efforts yielded only louder cries. It was a wonder the Elf wasn't deaf yet.
"Leave us, Kreacher. You only frighten him more," ordered the woman gliding her to son's side. The Elf jumped slightly, having been caught unawares. Perhaps his hearing was being affected after all.
"Kreacher did not hear Mistress enter," he said bowing to her. "He was only trying to…"
"Leave us," she ordered again sternly, unhappy at having to repeat herself at such an ungodly hour. He bowed once again and scampered off. She sighed wearily as she scooped Sirius into her arms. "What is wrong, my son? Why won't you let your poor mother sleep? She worked so hard to bring you into this world, try to enjoy it before you decide it is not to your liking."
He cried on unceasingly. Victoria conjured a warm bottle and sat near the window to feed him. "I cannot keep doing this, Sirius. We both need our rest." Her ears rang slightly at the sudden silence as the boy drank from the bottle hungrily. Walking up to the mirror that was over the bureau, she took in her reflection.
"My Lady, you look dreadful," the enchanted mirror said. "Are you getting enough sleep?"
She sighed at her worn and tired features. After working so hard her whole life to maintain a beautiful elegance, and 2 weeks after giving birth she looked like a wasted old hag. She didn't even want to think about the extra pounds that stayed after the pregnancy… and the stretch marks! Those would have to go! "No one is getting any sleep these days," she mumbled to herself in response as she turned form the mirror in disgust.
Finished with his bottle, baby Sirius decided there was nothing left to do but continue with his previous endeavor. His exhausted mother blanched at the sight of his little face scrunching, preparing for the inevitable. Panicking, she did the first thing that came to mind. She sang him a lullaby she hadn't heard since she was little herself.
"Sleep, oh babe, for the red bee hums
The silent twilight falls
Eva from the gray rock comes
To wrap the world enthralled"
He whimpered slightly, but did not wail out. Taking this as encouragement, she continued, sitting in the rocking chair next to the crib. His large blue eyes opened to regard the woman before him.
"And laying there, oh my child, my joy
My love and heat's desire
The crickets sing you a lullaby
Beside the dying fire"
Gurgling peacefully, he grasped the well manicured finger that stroked his velvet forehead. Victoria smiled down at him as his eyes looked into her own matching pair. Maybe this mothering business wasn't so bad.
"Dusk has come and the Green Man's Horn
Is wreathed in rings of fog
Shivra sails his boat till morn
Along the starry bog"
She yawned and stood slowly, so as not to jostle the baby that lightly dozed in her arms. He yawned as well and snuggled into her warmth, clutching her night robe in tiny fists. Victoria stood over the crib, placing the babe inside.
"And over it all the paley moon
Has gleamed her cusp in dew
And weeps to hear the sad sleep tune
I sing, oh love, for you"
Waving her wand once more, the moon vanished, darkening the room so the child could sleep uninterrupted. Tomorrow would be hard, and young Sirius probably would cry relentlessly until his parents were ready to go mad. But right now, in this moment, everything was calm and perfect for a mother and her son.
"And laying there, oh my child, my joy
My love and heart's desire
The crickets sing you a lullaby
Beside the dying fire."
Victoria pushed against the chair, using all her energy to get to her bed. She was growing weaker and weaker now. She needed more care than a House Elf could provide. But that was not available to her. All of her family was dead or wished ill of her. Where had things gone so wrong with her eldest? He had been ready to take over the family, she could see it. He had taken to the noble life like a mermaid to water.
It wasn't until he first attended Hogwarts that any real problems arose. Even then, it hadn't gotten so out of hand until the middle of his schooling years. Those ruffian boys he insisted on associating with turned his mind against his family! His own flesh and blood! Delinquents the lot of them! They deserved the messy end that had befallen them.
That Potter boy from a good bloodline with parents who were too soft and weak to appreciate it. They allowed him to do whatever he wished with no disciplining his mischievous ways. Then that Pettigrew child. His family was full of fools and dunderheads. Not a working brain cell in the whole family so that boy only kept Sirius back from his true potential. Just a brainless boy who needed protection. And the final insult came in the form of a Half-breed monstrosity. The others she could stomach for tea on one afternoon per month. But no son of hers would befriend a werewolf pup! The only thing a wolf was good for was target practice! Her son should know better than to speak with such an unworthy beast.
Sirius, his heart too big for his brain, stood up for them, every last one. Even managed to make himself enemies of the sons of friends of hers; the Malfoys and the Snapes. Both very honorable and influential families. And her eldest had to throw away such useful ties in favor of a band of misfit pranksters.
But his big heart was something to be admired, she supposed. His loyalty ran strong, and those who he saw under his protection would have a fierce defender to the end. Once upon a time, Victoria and her youngest were under his 'circle of protection.' There are worse crimes in the world than caring too much. He had often accused her of not caring enough, or of caring too much about things of little consequence. Did that boy not realize the responsibilities that must be borne because of a noble heritage? Did he think she took particular pleasure in blasting his name off the family tree?
No, wherever he was, he would have nothing to do with her. So be it, then. If that fool of a boy would forsake his family for doomed Mudbloods and Half-breeds, then there was less a stain on the family for it. Perhaps his running away had its advantages as well. Yet, even though it was not her place to love him anymore, the memory of him sleeping in her arms, of his bright trusting eyes, identical to hers, staring at her as she sang; it was these memories that would not allow her to forget or hate him completely. He was her son. And the small part of her that was still his mother wished him comfort wherever he was, even she could not offer it to him.
An hour later a soft knock came at the door. Two large floppy ears poked through as their owner fidgeted from side to side, unknowing of what to do if she did not grant him entrance. "Mistress? Kreacher has come for the tray. And he has come to say supper is ready. May he come in?"
At no answer again, he assumed she was sleeping and tip-toed in. As he collected the cooled tea, untouched still, and the biscuits that were hard and brittle, he looked over at his Mistress. Her face was relaxed and no pain was visible on her elegant face. A small wistful smile played on her lips, one that he hadn't seen in years.
And even when the wizards came to collect old Victoria Black from the ancient house, it looked as though she were only sleeping.
I try to believe
Wherever you are
There's a sky and a sea of blue
And someone you trust
With sheltering arms
Have finally comforted you