"Hello," said Felicity, bending down to pick up the little girl who stretched out her arms, displaying eight pearly teeth in a radiant smile. "Where did you come from?"

There was the sound of muffled sniggering, quickly followed by the patter of several sets of feet rapidly descending the stairs.

Phineas scowled. "There are three mischief-makers who will be going to bed without pudding tonight."

Felicity pretended to smile at the toddler, although it was Phineas that she found amusing. Other men would send their unruly children to bed without dinner. He only deprived them of pudding for afters, and yet acted as though he were the strictest of fathers.

"Mama," said the little girl.

"She is not your mother, Belvina," Phineas said stiffly.

Felicity said, "I do think you're quite the little belle."

Belvina rattled off a string of words that perhaps her brothers or her nanny could decipher, but not anyone else, until she made a grasping motion at Phineas and said, "Dada."

He said, "Am I? I highly doubt it."

Felicity's arms tightened around the child attempting to catapult herself into the arms of the man who backed away.

"Dada! Dada!" Belvina said excitedly.

Phineas' eyes narrowed. "When I discover who has coached—"

"—Belvina is your daughter," Felicity cut in, quickly adding when Phineas opened his mouth to speak, "Regardless of her parentage, she is your responsibility, and looks to you as father."

"Do not presume to lecture me," he said coldly. "I have never stinted in my duty to this household, regardless of the children's parentage."

A blush burned its way up from her chest. "I—I beg your pardon," she said, "I did not mean—"

"Say no more." Phineas inclined his head. "I shall disregard this entire conversation and trust that we will speak upon more pleasant matters at dinner." With a slight bow, he turned on his heel and left the attic.

Felicity stared after him incredulously. "Typical man."

"Dada?"

"Yes, Dada," she told the child, whose velvety brown eyes looked up at her inquiringly. "He goes on his way, leaving the woman holding the baby."

"Mama?"

Felicity smiled at the beguiling toddler. "No, but I would count myself fortunate to have an angel such as you for a daughter."

A tiny, dimpled finger pointed toward the door. "Go?"

"Yes, we will go find the nursery at once."

When they reached the second floor, Belvina squirmed to get down. Felicity set the wriggling child onto the carpet. "All right, Belle, lead on."

The miniature pink silk skirt swayed back and forth as Belvina made her unsteady way down the corridor. She came to a door and slapped the flat of her little hand against it. "Fee!" she cried when it opened.

"Nanny's looking for you," the boy said, shaking a finger. Shaggy black hair hung into a face that looked somewhere between Sirius and Arcturus in age.

Felicity said, "Hello. We haven't met. I'm Miss Felicity Argo. I'll be painting your father's portrait."

"Fornicating with him is what Cook said."

Behind his brother, Sirius Black stood with a smirk on his face.

Felicity said coolly, "A gentleman does not heed gossip, much less repeat unsavoury portions to his younger siblings."

The boy who opened the door told his brother, "Say you're sorry!"

"No, Phineas, I won't—because I'm not." Sirius turned stormy grey eyes on Felicity. "If you think you'll be our new mother, you won't. Men never marry their mistresses. Nanny said so."

Shaken by his gloating tone, Felicity said, "Have you no better way to spend your time than eavesdropping on inappropriate conversations, Mr. Black?"

"She'll tell Father," young Phineas whispered, his face crumpling. "He'll leave!"

Felicity placed her hand on his shoulder. "I am not a tattle-tale, and as I have lost both mother and father, I can sympathise with a child's desire that no one replace their parent." She pinned Sirius with a steely look. "However, in return for my pardon—which you shall ask—I require a promise that no further aspersions be made on my character." When he remained silent, she said, "I'm waiting."

"Beg pardon," Sirius mumbled. "I won't talk bad about you anymore." His expression said, but you can't stop me from thinking it!

"Fair enough." Felicity felt a tug on her skirt. It was Belvina. "Yes, sweet?" she asked, crouching down to the girl's level.

"She's a baby. She can't tell you anything."

Felicity did not need to glance at Sirius to know the boy was rolling his eyes in disgust. It was in his voice. She ignored him. "Go on, Belle. I'm listening."

"We call her Belle, too," said Phineas.

Belvina gurgled with laughter. "Na-na!"

Felicity looked over her shoulder to see what the toddler was pointing at. A grey haired nurse with a ruddy complexion was bustling down the corridor.

"Belvina Genista Black! The household is in an uproar because of you!" She brushed past a hastily straightening Felicity to pick up the girl and shake her fingers at the boys in the exact manner Phineas had scolded his sister. "You imps will receive no pudding this day for your antics. You were to take Belle on a walk in the back garden!"

"I only said I'd take her on a walk," Sirius muttered.

Phineas smiled at Felicity. "Miss Argo brought her back."

"My thanks," the nurse said tightly, before ordering, "Go find your brother, Master Sirius. All of you are in need of a time of silent reflection to dwell upon your misbehaviour!"

In a blink of an eye, the nurse had shooed her younger charges into the nursery and shut the door. Felicity was taken aback by the woman's hostility but determined not to show it. Sirius was watching her. She would not give him reason to bear tales to the servants.

The boy followed her to the stairs. "Nanny spoke to you. That's funny. She told Cook that nothing could make her to speak to a harlot."

Felicity's temper snapped. She whirled around, wand in hand.

The boy's eyes opened wide. "Are you putting a hex on me? I'll tell Father!"

She leaned down to stare him in the eye. "I merely jinxed you. The next foul word that comes out of your mouth will be followed by soapy bubbles. Telling your father is up to you."

"I can't tell him now. I'd get in trouble!"

"Then watch your language."

The area between her shoulder blades itched as she descended the stairs. That must mean Sirius was shooting daggers at her back. Felicity was still thanking Merlin that the boy was too young to work magic when she entered her room to find her friend playing with Arcturus Black.

"Alrighty, here's the tie-breaker. You have to bounce the ball on the floor, against the wall, and into the vase," said Annie.

The boy's look of intense concentration was very like his father's. He solemnly tossed the India rubber ball. When it bounced into the Chinese vase, Felicity clapped along with her maid. "Bravo! Well done, Mr. Black."

Annie grinned. "No need to be formal. Young Artie here's the friendly type, like me. Aren't you, lad?"

He nodded, retrieved the ball, and dashed out of the room.

"Don't be a stranger," Annie called. "I demand a rematch." She straightened the scrap of lace she'd placed upon her head in an attempt to look "more maid-like" and shook out pink and green striped skirts. "I'm having a grand time so far." She jerked her head toward the dressing room. "You don't want me to sleep in there, do you?"

And risk Annie stumbling upon her and Phineas one night? "No. You need your privacy."

"My privacy?" Annie giggled, bobbing a curtsey. "Yes, Miss."

"Oh, hush. Have you unpacked my things?"

"Well, I thought about it," said Annie, "and then I decided against it, because I'd hate to wrinkle your gowns when you're trying to sweep a man off his feet. What if Headmaster Black was about to declare his undying love, but got distracted by a crinkled collar?" She placed the back of her hand to her forehead. "I would never forgive myself."

Felicity walked toward the dressing room, shaking her head over her friend's dramatics. "I think you were the one distracted—by having a playmate."

"Artie is a very mature three-year-old, I'll have you know," said Annie. "He didn't speak much, but what he did say was very clear, with lovely diction."

"And what did Artie the articulate say?" Felicity asked, as she used spells to unpack her trunk without breaking the Anti-Wrinkle Charm on the clothes inside.

"Father likes Miss Argo."

A pair of shoes that had been floating in air clattered to the floor. "No!"

"Yes!" Annie ran to pick up the shoes. Instead of carrying them to the wardrobe, she tried them on. "He also said 'I like her too. She's pretty'." The girl turned a foot one way and then another to admire the shoe. "I think the beading on these is ever so pretty." She sighed deeply. "I wish I could afford them on servant's pay."

"I'll buy you a pair," said Felicity, amused by how quickly her friend's expression went from melancholy to ecstatic.

"You're an angel!" Annie put away the shoes. "Now. 'Ow may I serve you?"

Had her friend unintentionally slipped into a French accent? Felicity decided to pretend she hadn't noticed. "Unpack my toiletries and draw a bath, please."

"Oui, Ma'm'selle!"

After donning a burgundy dress with a diamond shaped neckline and a long, draped skirt, Felicity touched her hair, trying to decide whether or not to adorn the flyaway strands with jewellery.

"If you wore the French comb with garnets, it would look well with the drops on your necklace!" said Annie.

Felicity looked at her reflection in the Cheval mirror. Held against the garnet drops, the "flowers" on the comb matched the crystals on the necklace. "The comb but no earrings," she decided aloud.

"Never gild the lily, Mum always says." Annie sniggered. "If it was me, though, I'd wear earrings with matching drops and add a few rings and bangles."

"I think Phineas prefers subtlety."

"That is subtle. I said 'a few,' didn't I?"

Felicity smiled. "So you did."

Phineas was debating whether or not to go ahead and pour himself a drink or wait for his guest when Felicity glided into the drawing room. She looked so elegant and pristine, he wanted to take her into his arms and rumple her up.

Irritated by his inability to do any such thing, he snapped, "Is that gown Muggle-made?"

"Why do you ask? Is there some defect?"

Her laughing eyes made him feel churlish. "No. You look exquisite. It is only that...our society...frowns upon everything that is not wizard-made. I would not wish you to suffer censure."

"Thank you."

The softness in her voice and expression brought back memories of the kiss they had shared earlier. He was tempted to repeat it. Instead, he asked, "Would you care for sherry?"

"Is it sweet?"

His gaze fell to Felicity's lips. "Very."

Her mouth curved. "It is unladylike of me, I'm sure, but I do not care for sweet sherry—or any sherry, I confess."

Phineas took a step toward her. "I dislike sherry also."

"Then you, too, are very unladylike."

He gave a bark of amusement. "I have no desire to be a lady."

"Neither do I, if the price is conforming to societal expectations."

Was she referring to the expectation of chastity outside marriage? His blood surged hot. Phineas discarded his resolve to observe the proprieties and reached out to trail his fingertips down her bare arm. When he clasped her hand, he lifted it to her lips. How fortuitous that she did not wear gloves. He kissed skin that felt like warm silk. He looked forward to exploring it at his leisure.

"Dinner is served," announced Kester.

Phineas placed Felicity's hand on his sleeve. "Shall we?" He led the way to the dining room. Noticing his companion's glances around the dark, ornately decorated chamber, he waved a hand toward the deep green walls and orange-tinted red draperies. Dryly, he said, "My mother was fond of olives."

Her eyes sparkled. "What about you?"

He let his gaze rove over her. "I prefer something sweet."

Her smile was sweetly mischievous. "Pastels?"

When he seated her, Phineas brushed the nape of Felicity's neck as he whispered, "Something creamy."

He was a hairsbreadth away from kissing her when Kester entered with the soup.

"Cream of asparagus!" the house-elf said grandly.

Phineas kept his tone level with effort. "No need to announce each dish."

"Yes, Master."

Felicity's lips were tightly pressed together. When Kester exited, her laughter spilled into the dining room.

Phineas reluctantly smiled. "I suppose the soup will satisfy my craving—for now."

Hazel eyes regarded him warily. "Do you...anticipate...fully satisfying your, erm, craving tonight?"

For a brief moment, he entertained the fantasy of using Accio to bring Felicity to his lap, where he would kiss her passionately and growl, "I cannot wait another moment." Since she was far more likely to say "I'm not ready" than throw up her skirts, he stroked his beard and murmured, "Tonight is but the first course."

Felicity was still blushing when Kester served salmon with Hollandaise sauce.

When they retired to the drawing room after dinner, Phineas wanted to draw Felicity into his arms. He refrained after noticing the little gestures that betrayed her nervousness: touching her hair and worrying her lower lip with her teeth. Out of a selfish desire to ensure that both her lips were undamaged and kissable later, he strolled over to gaze at a tapestry.

"That's an interestingscene. Is it Greek mythology?" Felicity had walked over to stand beside him.

"Family history. The House of Black claims Harpalyce as an ancestress," said Phineas. "She's the one the Muggles have caught in a net and are trying to beat to death with sticks."

"What did she do?"

"Took her devotion to the goddess Artemis too far. Not content with hunting animals, she began to hunt Muggles—first travellers, then shepherds, and finally anyone she came across in the forest."

Felicity shivered, edging closer until her arm pressed against his. "She deserved the villagers' wrath, but why didn't she Apparate?"

"She's unconscious."

"Then how did she escape?"

"My ancestor Ignis rescued her. He's the one standing at the bottom left."

"There are flames cupped in his hand!"

"Ignis was well-named. He created a smokescreen and Apparated Harpalyce to safety."

Delicate blonde eyebrows drew together. "And they lived happily ever after?" Her tone was doubtful.

He shrugged. "After a Memory Charm."

Felicity continued to stare up at him. "Why did you tell me this story?"

Phineas smoothed his moustache. "To illustrate what a decent fellow I am by comparison."

She giggled.

He smiled. "See? Don't be nervous. I've never hunted anyone down."

"Have you burned anyone?"

Phineas cupped his hand and concentrated. Blue flames materialised and danced across his palm. "Touch them," he said. "They won't burn."

Instead of touching the magical flames, Felicity put her hand to his cheek. "I believe you." She leaned into him, stretching up to place her lips against his. Her mouth moved hesitantly, as if she had never initiated a kiss before. As he stood passively, her actions became more confident. Her hand slid into his hair to hold his face in position while her lips parted his.

He returned the kiss gently, waiting until she sank against him to deepen the embrace. The urging of her mouth and hands was too enticing to resist. His lips firmed. She tasted of chocolate.

When his tongue began to explore her mouth, Felicity made a sound that hardened every muscle in his body. She desired him. He could escort her to her room, kiss her goodnight, and continue kissing her until she was seduced into inviting him not to wait any longer.

It would be easy to slither into her bed, but would she allow him to stay there? Felicity was a Hufflepuff. She would expect him to keep his word and not take advantage of the opportunity she unknowingly presented.

He had endured one unsatisfying relationship. He would not suffer another one. His encounters with Ursula had been brief and cold. What he wanted with Felicity was far different, and worth waiting until the time was right. After all, he was mature adult, not a schoolboy at the mercy of raging hormones.

"Oh!" Felicity gasped.

He looked down to where his fingers had slipped beneath the low edge of her bodice. Phineas was forced to rephrase his last, thankfully silent, assertion. He was not entirely influenced by lust, and would therefore control it.

After escorting Felicity to her room, Phineas retreated to the library and the one task guaranteed to quell sexual thoughts better than an Impotence Hex: writing acceptance letters.

He despised the task. Every year, he suggested to the Board of Governors that the Deputy Headmaster write the blasted things. After all, he himself was a busy man, and rarely sent the letters earlier than the first of August. Since parents appreciated neither the wait nor the necessity of last-minute shopping, Warwick Selwyn was the perfect solution. He would both enjoy the task and please everyone involved.

So far, the Board disagreed.

This year, there was one letter Phineas honestly looked forward to penning. He picked up a quill, checked the nib to ensure that it was sharp, and put it to parchment. After heading the letter with the name of the school and appropriate flourishes, he addressed the student.

Dear Mr. Black,

I am pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on September 1. Do not bother attempting to owl your rejection. The Headmaster of Durmstrang has assured me that he wishes to receive a transfer student as little as I am prepared to send one. You will not be allowed to remain home under the care of tutors. You will attend Hogwarts as befits the heir of the Ancient and Noble House of Black.

Yours Sincerely,

Phineas Nigellus Black

His son had been cunning, forging a letter, but Vasil Rakovski had seen through the ruse and contacted his fellow Headmaster at once. In actuality, Rakovski thought the boy would do well in an environment that emphasised the Dark Arts, but Phineas had declined his offer. No son of his would break family tradition.

After scratching out a half-dozen more acceptance letters, Phineas was more than ready to retire for the evening. He fell asleep moments after his head hit the pillow, and did not awaken until he felt a kiss on his cheek.

"Felicity," he said sleepily, "Have you decided to skip dinner and have dessert?"

There was a gurgle of laughter. "Dada!"

Phineas cracked open an eye. A brown eye filled his range of vision, scant millimetres away. "Ah!" he cried.

Belvina's head jerked back. The girl began to cry.

"No, no, don't do that! Tears are for Hufflepuffs! Do you want to be sorted into Hufflepuff one day, be forced to join sing-along and wear unbecoming yellow? Your mother would be appalled. Get hold of yourself!"

The wailing increased in volume.

The door connecting his chamber to the next opened. Felicity ran into the room. "I—I heard a baby crying," she said, halting a few metres from the bed. "I wasn't aware that my dressing room connected to your dressing room."

She wore only a sheer nightdress. Phineas wanted to open the drapes and let sunlight flood into the room.

"Mama!" Belvina sobbed, holding out her arms.

Felicity hurried over to scoop the child up. "Is she ill?" She brushed aside red curls. "Her forehead is warm."

"From the exertion of disturbing my sleep, no doubt."

"Oh, that's so sweet." Felicity kissed Belvina's cheek. "You wanted to be with your daddy."

Before Phineas could open his mouth to say Gabriel Prewett was Belvina's true "daddy," Sirius came storming into the room.

"I received your stupid letter," the boy said, holding up a crumpled piece of parchment. "If you make me go to Hogwarts, though, I will make you sorry! I'll cause so much trouble..."

"Empty threats will not sway me," said Phineas.

Sirius' face turned beet red. "They're not empty! I'll pull pranks on every teacher and fail all my classes and..." He glanced at Felicity and said, "And when I get old enough, I'll fornicate behind every sta—ahhh!"

Bubbles were foaming and spilling out of the boy's mouth. Belvina clapped her hands. "Si!"

Felicity looked amazed. "Spanish?"

"It's my na—" Sirius got out before another bubble worked its way out of his mouth. He threw a dark glare at his father, snatched his sister out of Felicity's arms, and stomped out of the bedroom.

"His name. I should have known." Felicity took a step back. "What an eventful morning. You'll find sitting for your portrait dull by comparison."

Phineas gave her a meaningful look. "Hardly."

She was back-pedalling rapidly now. "I must undress—I mean dress—now."

He said, "Would you do me a small favour before you go?"

"Of course. What is it?"

Phineas smiled. "Open the drapes."

Felicity had anticipated her experience of painting Phineas Black to be much the same as it had been at Hogwarts, with perhaps kisses and caresses beginning and ending each session. Instead, although there was lively banter and heated looks flashing between them, there was something else she had not expected: children.

Some mornings, Artie brought his rubber ball to bounce against boxes and trunks. Others, young Phineas led Belvina up the steps. In the corner where Phineas Nigellus had placed the chaise lounge, the children soon assembled a collection of blocks and tin soldiers, balls and picture books.

Even Sirius was not immune to the lure of the attic. Whether to annoy his father or spend time in his presence, the boy would slouch upon the chaise and read books to his sister, or lead the others in games of hide and seek.

Although she spent few moments alone with Phineas, Felicity would not have barred the children from the attic studio. They were delightful companions with strong, individual personalities. They were also an insight into their father. Through his conversations and observations, she discovered that he was strict, but not harsh, and quick to praise cleverness. He knew so much about his children, from their likes and dislikes in food to the games they enjoyed playing. It made Felicity happy to see that he not only corresponded regularly with his staff, he remembered what they wrote.

In the first days after Felicity's arrival, Phineas' greatest concern was that his encounters with Felicity would never transition from the drawing room to the bedroom. As the weeks passed, however, another worry arose.

What if he became too attached to her?

He never questioned Felicity's feelings. She doted on his unruly children, treated his prudish staff with smiling civility, and embraced him with a passion that tested his self-restraint. It was obvious that she was falling in love with him. The knowledge was satisfying and flattering.

It was his emotions that were troubling.

What if, once they passed the final barrier, he found that he desired more than an occasional tryst? What if he became so accustomed to her presence in his bed that he wanted Felicity to share it every night? The Board of Governors would never accept a Headmaster openly flaunting a mistress. Affairs were only permitted if they were discreet, and not likely to become the subject of outraged parents' letters to the editor of the Daily Prophet.

A month after Felicity had arrived; Phineas was no closer to reaching a decision. After a picnic luncheon for two ended as a fete that included the children, their nanny, tutor, and new staff favourite 'Annie,' he retreated to his study to sort matters out.

He made a list. Not on paper, chancing that someone could happen upon it. He composed a list in his head of all the reasons why he should not make Felicity his mistress. Before he finished, there was a knock at the door.

"Enter."

Kester ushered in a woman whose prune-coloured day dress matched her appearance. Small, old, and dried out, every Black dreaded a visitation from the eldest member of the family. She lived down to the name Petulara: to pester.

"Aunt Petulara. To do what do I owe this visit?" Phineas stood, waiting for the wizened busybody to take a seat before resuming his.

"You have brought disgrace to the House of Black, Phineas Nigellus."

He blinked. Usually, his aunt ran down a few relatives and acquaintances before turning her venom his way. "How so?"

"You have exposed your innocent children to the malignant influence of a fallen woman."

Who had gossiped about Felicity? Cook? Nanny? Kester? He said, "My houseguest is a talented artist, commissioned to paint my portrait. Her influence has been nothing but beneficial." Phineas was surprised to realise how deeply he meant what he said. He admired Felicity's art and envied her easy way with the children. Even Sirius had become less sullen in the last couple of weeks.

"She is your mistress! Can you deny it?"

"Yes."

His calm assertion took the wind out of the old hag's sails. She said stiffly, "Very good. Assure me that you do not plan any association with that woman and I will take my leave." Her bushy brows rose to hear the house-elf's name.

"Yes, Master?" said Kester, appearing beside the desk.

"My Aunt is leaving. Please have her driver pull the carriage around."

Gnarled fingers gripped an ebony walking stick tightly. "What is the meaning of this?"

Phineas stood. "Good day. Give my regards to Uncle Accursius."

Petulara rose, waving her stick like a sword. "Why will you not assure me that you plan no future dealings with that woman?"

"That woman is Miss Felicity Argo, and my intentions are none of your concern."

His aunt's nostrils flared. "Your intentions? What do you mean by intentions? Surely not..." She drew in a harsh breath when he strode past without answering. "Your position may ensure you remain on the family tapestry, Phineas Nigellus, but she shall never mar it! Never!"

Kester stood in the corridor, wringing his hands. "My brother Korvin is in Mrs. Black's service. I spoke too freely during his visit. I will punish myself."

"Your punishment is to listen to the squawking of an old crow as you escort her to her carriage," said Phineas, heading for the stairs.

Felicity stood before the painting of Phineas Nigellus, paintbrush in hand. The light from the enchanted skylight ensured that she could paint in "natural" sunlight even when the view outside was overcast, like today. She had planned to even up some overpainting, but instead dropped the brush and covered her face with her hands.

"Felicity!" The cause of her tears was striding across the attic towards her.

She hurriedly wiped the wetness from her eyes. "Yes?"

Her deliberately cheerful tone didn't fool Phineas. "You were crying."

He made it sound like an accusation. She would miss the way he tried to hide his concern with gruffness. "I always get emotional when I finish a painting."

"Finished? When? Now?"

She unbuttoned her painting smock and set it aside. "No. I was done a week ago. I didn't want to say goodbye, so I overpainted the border. I didn't need to. I wasn't filling in details...just...adding layers of paint."

"Why?"

Her lips trembled with the effort not to cry. "The children would have noticed if my brush was dry. They're a—awfully clever."

"Yes, they are, aren't they?"

Phineas sounded like a proud father. If her time at Grimmauld made him appreciate how fortunate he was to have such children, she would be happy.

Tears streamed down her face.

His fingertips brushed her cheeks. "I meant why didn't you want to say goodbye?"

"You know why."

Phineas looked into her eyes. "Because you love me?"

"Yes."

He bent to kiss a tear away. "If I asked, would you be my mistress?"

She remembered her parents' devotion to each other. "Do you love me?"

Phineas looked highly uncomfortable, almost glaring at her as he said, "Yes."

Felicity nodded. "Then if you ask me, I will—"

"Marry me."

She stared at him.

He cupped her face in his hands. "Be my wife."

"Why?"

There were so many reasons. Phineas wanted to keep his position at Hogwarts. He wanted to sleep beside her every night and tell his relatives to keep their opinions to themselves. He wanted society to envy Felicity, not pity her. He thought of Sirius and wanted his children to treat her with respect.

Phineas told her the only reason that truly mattered. "Because I love you."

Felicity smiled through happy tears. "Yes," she said. "Yes!"

-

Christmas Eve, 1889

-

Glass ornaments from Germany and Russia lay on the drawing room carpet next to sweets, toy swords, miniature furniture, instruments and sugared fruit. Sirius watched with a scowl as his stepmother used her wand to arrange candles upon the branches of the Christmas tree. "I could do that if you'd let me."

"Believe me, I'd let you, if the Ministry wouldn't frown upon underage magic outside a school classroom," said Felicity.

Phineas, from his comfortable chair, said, "Let's see if the trace works when you use an adult's wand. Try mine."

Sirius hurried over, his face wreathed in a grin. "D'you mean it?"

Phineas inclined his head toward the wand on a side table. "Go ahead."

"Thank you, Father!"

Artie and "Fin," as the boys preferred to be called, stood on each side of their brother as he sent candles floating around the room. "They'll get to the tree eventually," Sirius told them with a grin.

Belvina continued to dig ornaments out of a trunk. "Look! I made this!" she cried, holding up a Dresden ornament. The cardboard butterfly was embossed in gold leaf.

"Yes," said Felicity, "and Artie made the silver fish, Sirius the moon, and Fin the gold ship."

"You made the rose, Mummy."

"I made it for your father," Felicity said in a stage whisper, "because although he's awfully clever, he's not very crafty."

In the middle of a giggle, Belle's eyes grew round. She ran over to Phineas. "Daddy, Cygnus doesn't have an ornament!"

Phineas gently tugged one of three-year-old's curls. "Would you make him one, Belle? As you can see, your baby brother is clever, but he isn't very crafty."

While his children laughed, Phineas winked at his wife and then looked down at his three-month-old son. He smirked as Cygnus proved his cleverness by blowing another spit bubble.

-


-

A/N: I enjoyed creating one of the "stories between the lines," the unacknowledged, second marriage of Phineas Nigellus. He was the Headmaster of Hogwarts, and so safe from being blasted off, but as Aunt Petulara (Patterned after overbearing relatives like Aunt March in Little Women and Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice) promised, Felicity was never included. Later, their son Cygnus was added to the list of children as though he were Ursula's child. Would Felicity and Phineas have cared? I think not, and I would also not be surprised if the portrait of the Headmaster often slips away to be with the portrait of his second wife that hangs in some secluded spot of Hogwarts. :D

The Harpalyce myth inspired Phineas' drawing room tapestry and his letter was borrowed from the one Harry received in SS. The idea that Headmasters should delegate the task of acceptance letters came from there too.

Special Thanks to obliviate36 for asking questions in a review that prompted this note and many thanks to everyone who reviewed last chapter and gave me inspiration...♥ 40/16 All knowing Tonks aestel cupcakeswirl ElspethBates Freja Lercke-Falkenborg GraceRichie MollyCoddles Moontime NaginiFay Operamuse RahNee siriuslycoco Slipknot-3113 Sophia Loren ♥ and ♥ sunny9847