Author's Notes: I'm back to Harry Potter. Ah, well. Let's all just admit it: you can't escape the Black family.

I know this might seem… random? But it's all part of a universe I've been sort of constructing in my head, trying to stay as close to cannon as possible. I love the idea of the Black kids being genuine terrors most of the time but—occasionally—doing something just because it's nice. And plus. Alphard makes me smile.

Uncle Alphard's Guide to Child Rearing

Uncle Alphard was rubbish at child minding. It was no secret that when he took the kids out to Diagon they usually came back with forbidden treats and goodies stuffed into every pocket and for weeks afterward the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black was infested with products from Gambol and Japes or Twitter's Pastries. To be fair to Uncle Alphard, there were very few people that could control all five Black heirs at once, since they seemed to instinctively know how to combine their individual strengths when negotiating, or—perhaps more aptly—dueling.

Still, whenever the holidays rolled around it was inevitably poor Uncle Alphard who was left to take them Christmas shopping, since he was unmarried and therefore it was generally assumed that he had the most free time to take them. After all, Cygnus and Druella could hardly be bothered, since the winter hols were the busiest time of year for a prominent manager at Gringotts, and Orion's work at the Ministry had reached life-consuming levels when he was twenty-three and had never abated.

The idea of Druella or Walburga trying to wrestle their children into submission was laughable. It would have given them both headaches, and anyway, there were parties to be planned.

Which left Alphard.

He sighed, looking at the five earnest faces before him, each of them covered by a mask of innocence which was probably only sincere on the baby, Regulus. He was three, still little enough to be cared for by a baby-nurse, but he clung to his seven-year-old brother with such tenacity that not even the paid staff could deter him from the trip.

Sirius was grinning widely, his eyes sparkling with mischief that put Alphard on edge and made a couple strands of hair fall out. Beside him, Narcissa smiled sweetly, her large doe-eyes promising good behavior and obedience that he knew would disappear as soon as one of her sisters suggested deviations from Alphard's general game plan. Andromeda had a pleasant sort of expression on her face, but she wasn't even trying to make it look genuine; as always, the middle child had her head off in the clouds somewhere, dreaming or planning or perhaps both.

And then of course there was Bellatrix. At eleven, the oldest Black child was already the most frightening creature Alphard had ever encountered, and that included Walburga when she hadn't gotten her morning Pumpkin Pasty. Not a single day passed that Alphard didn't thank whoever was in charge when the bits of Andromeda's personality were assembled. Her gentleness balanced out her sister's intensity, which kept the earth in orbit but also lent itself to more devious outlets, such as reigning in Bellatrix's off-the-wall schemes and molding them into something actually achievable.

He sent his brother and sister-in-law a desperate, pleading glance, but (a middle child himself), Alphard was used to being ignored by his older sibling. "You'll behave," Cygnus ordered the five children as he shrugged into his cloak and helped his wife don hers.

"Yes, sir," their little voices chimed, sweet and obedient.

"You'll listen to your Uncle and do what he says," Cygnus added, less of a command than a prediction, as if by his saying the words he made them true. That was a confidence that Alphard had always envied, and certainly one that seemed to intimidate the children into cooperation whenever he was present.

"Yes, sir."

Without another word, Cygnus took Druella's arm and they swept together out of the house; Alphard watched them go with a helpless sigh before sliding his gaze miserably towards his charges.

Their demeanor changed the instant the last remnants of their father's essence had left the room; Sirius slouched and Narcissa relaxed; Andromeda seemed slightly more focused than before, apparently sensing the wheels in her older sister's head beginning to turn. Bellatrix turned towards Andromeda and they quickly began speaking in low whispers, glancing all the while at Alphard and nodding.

This, Alphard remembered with instant relief, was why he never had children. It wasn't that he didn't like them—he was that he didn't like being responsible for them. He tried to imagine what his sister's husband would do to him if he accidentally let Sirius get killed or deformed, and shuddered. Robbing Orion of an heir would be the way to go if he was ever in the market for a new and markedly more unattractive face.

"Now, who's ready for some good shopping?" He asked, deciding to remain optimistic about the trip. Perhaps he would get lucky this year, and the Christmas spirit would fill them all up and they'd decide to listen to him when he begged them to stop opening all the Monster Book of Monsters books and setting them on the other customers.

("Only the Mudblood ones," Bellatrix had argued, as if this would somehow convince the sales clerk not to charge them for damages.)

"Aren't you ready to go yet, Alphard?" Narcissa asked boredly, examining her nails and brushing imaginary duster off of her immaculate dress robes. The day after her seventh birthday, the precious child had decided that she was grown-up enough to call adults by their first names (although this was done only with Alphard, and only when not in the presence of her parents). The habit had been encouraged by Bellatrix and Andromeda, who both seemed to take innumerable pleasure out of watching his discomfort when dealing with the girl.

Ten-year-old Andromeda held out her hand for Narcissa, which the child instantly took, a smile blossoming across her face. For all her attitude, Narcissa was hopelessly adoring of her older sisters, idolizing every move that they made. Alphard wished that this could be used to his advantage but, unfortunately, it actually worked against him as it meant that every time Andromeda and/or Bellatrix disobeyed him, Narcissa would, too.

"I'll Floo with Cissy; Bella, you go with Sirius. You don't mind taking little Reggie, do you, Uncle Alphard?" Andromeda asked, smiling vaguely at him with an expression of polite detachment on her face which read that she didn't really care if he minded or not, since he would be stuck doing it anyway.

Wordlessly, he held out his arms. Regulus's eyes got wide and full as Sirius dutifully handed him over, but the young Black heir patted his little brother's head and kissed his forehead. "Don't cry, you dummy, I'm gonna be waiting for you on the other side," he said with a roll of his eyes, and then slipped his fingers into Bellatrix's outstretched hand.

Bellatrix and Sirius went first, of course, followed closely by Andromeda and Narcissa. Sometimes Alphard wondered if the two older Black sisters wouldn't end up charming themselves permanently together. It wouldn't have made much difference; from the moment Andromeda was first placed beside Bellatrix in the crib, the two girls had curled into one another's arms and stayed there. If Andromeda was quiet, it was only because she rarely felt that she needed to say something that Bellatrix hadn't already mentioned; when Bellatrix spoke, it was in the first person-plural. We're hungry. We're bored. We're going to play horrible tricks on Uncle Alphard when he takes us Christmas shopping.

He emerged in the Leaky Cauldron only seconds after the second group had gone; he wasn't going to risk letting them run away before he even made it to Diagon. To his great relief, they hadn't fled—they were waiting impatiently by the door, and as soon as he spotted his brother, Regulus held out his arms and began to cry.

With a world-weary sigh, Sirius let the boy climb onto his back. "If you pull my hair or drool on me or anything I'm gonna dump you in a trash can," he warned, and Regulus solemnly shut his mouth.

"Mother gave us money before she left," Bellatrix said, holding out a pouch which clinked with galleons as it moved, "So there's no need to go to Gringotts."

"Plus," Andromeda added in her soft voice, "Sirius is afraid of the goblins."

The boy straightened indignantly. "I am not!" He cried. Then, in a sulking tone, "I just don't like them, is all."

They always went to the shops in the order they appeared, in order to avoid the tricky situation of picking where to go first. This meant that Quality Quidditch Supplies was always the first stop, to Sirius's endless delight and Narcissa's misery. Sirius sprinted into the store as soon as the door opened, but Narcissa lagged behind, looking utterly bored until someone—bless their soul—thought to hand her a magazine. Bellatrix and Andromeda, aided by Andromeda's meticulous shopping list, went immediately into action. Sirius, as was always the case, pointed out to them everything that he wanted (which was pretty much everything), and the two girls bought for him only the things that they could foresee being useful to them in the future.

By this logic, they bought him a book which taught broomstick maneuvers, game gloves which were waterproof, fireproof, penetration proof, and had excellent grip with the questionable option of a temporary sticking charm, and of course a set of practice Quaffles which doubled as Bludgers when charmed properly.

All potentially alarming gifts, of course, which is what made Alphard glad he rarely spent the night at his brother's or sister's.

Sirius's accidental detonation of an exploding sock notwithstanding, they left Quality Quidditch Supplies with very little damage done to either the sales clerk or the other patrons. In fact, the children did so well in the first few stores—the Stationary Shop and even Magical Instruments (which had threatened to ban them last year when Bellatrix had found, to her endless delight, a little gadget which was meant to be used as an alternative to cooling charms; she had turned it up so far that the entire shop, including the manager and all of his expensive goods, had frozen solid and—aside from the manager—been unrecoverable)—that by the time they got to Flourish & Blotts, Alphard was feeling foolishly confident.

Upon entering the book store, the children had left him at the door and diffused to their respective interests. Soon they were lost behind the stacks and stacks of books, hidden behind the walls of paper and the leather that bound them.

Alphard wandered over to the cooking section and perused through various cookbooks. He liked some of Martha Stewart's recipes, but he found it vaguely shameful and extremely shrewd that she would market it all to Muggles who, not realizing what sort of magic went into her cooking, practically worshipped the ground she walked on.

Still, he had been wondering whether she put vanilla extract in her pancakes. He always went back and forth on the issue, and—

"Are you ready to go, Uncle Alphard?"

He turned around. The five Black children were all lined up behind him, hands clasped behind their backs, faces a mask of innocence. Andromeda was smiling in that pleasant way of hers, and even Bellatrix looked genuine enough. "We've bought all our gifts and we want to go now," Bellatrix told him commandingly. "We want to go to Fortescue's."

"It's only been a few minutes," Alphard said hesitatingly. "Are you sure you got everything?"

"I brought a list," Andromeda told him matter-of-factly, holding it up for him to examine. Sure enough, several books were crossed off the list, apparently having been bought and bagged in the Flourish & Blotts shopping bag now clutched in Bellatrix's hand. "Sirius is terrible at buying things for other people so I just made a list for him, too, so we're ready now, and we want to go to Fortescue's, please."

"Please," Narcissa added, blinking up at him with wide, convincing eyes.

"Please," Sirius chimed in, with an expression that read I've-behaved-so-well-you-should-practice-positive-enforcement.

"You might as well say yes, because we're just going to go anyway," Bellatrix drawled. "And we don't want this to be difficult. There's the easy way and the hard way, and apparently we have to try the easy way first, because Meda says so and because it's cold out, so I don't really want to tie you up to a lamppost again."

Alphard sighed. "Well," he said, "Points for honesty, I s'pose. All right, let's go. Ice cream it is."

Sirius looked disappointed. On the way out of the shop he confided, "I voted for tying you up."

Narcissa nodded. "He did, too. Except he said that this time we should make sure to take your wand so you can't just charm yourself out like you did last time. He said that if we left you there for long enough you would stick to the lamppost and become a statue." She patted his arm comfortingly. "But that's not true, probably. Anyway, I've never seen it happen, and we've tied up loads of house elves."

"Good Heavens, why would you tie up helpless house elves?"

"They're the best targets," Andromeda answered promptly. "They can't tell Mother and Father if we order them not to."

"Of course, they have been running low in supply," Bellatrix added thoughtfully. "I imagine it's because Aunt Elladora keeps chopping off all their heads."

A terrified peep popped out of the bag in Bellatrix hand. Alphard glanced down at it, frowning. "What was that?"

"Just Reggie," Sirius answered smoothly. "I think I gave him too much butterbeer before we came over. It gives him the hiccups, doesn't it, Reg?" The boy nodded furiously, still refusing to open his mouth. The peep came again.

Alphard stopped walking. "That wasn't Regulus," he said sternly.

"Maybe it was," Sirius argued.

"He didn't open his mouth."

It was Narcissa who answered him. "Maybe it came through his nose."

Peep. "It didn't. What is making that sound?"

"Maybe Regulus is sick," Bellatrix offered. "You should take him home to be sure. I'll look after this lot. You just go on home—"

"Bellatrix Black," Alphard said sternly, "You tell me what is making that sound, or—"

"Or what?" The eleven-year-old challenged, standing a little straighter. "What're you gonna do to me?" She laughed, as if the very idea was ludicrous (and, Alphard had to be honest, there was a good chance that it was).

He really needed to learn how to make children respect him, Alphard decided. This wouldn't be happening if he was in the least bit intimidating. Possibly he could lose some weight. Maybe that would help. "I'll tell your father that you're tying up the house elves."

"Please don't do that," Andromeda said, looking up at him sadly. "I like you, Uncle Alphard. I don't want to have to have to run away and make you go home without us like last year. I know how mad Father got."

He was being threatened by a ten-year-old. And he was sort of taking it seriously. This had to stop. He snatched the bag from Bellatrix and peeled it open, peering inside.

"You didn't," he breathed. "You bought the store's elf?!"

"Well," Andromeda said in calm defense, "He is very small, just bag-sized. It would have been a waste not to take him."

Bellatrix nodded. "Plus, nobody will notice any magic we did, since they don't really pay any attention to what happens in Diagon because of all the accidental stuff that gets done, especially in the Christmas season."

"And he's cute," Narcissa put in, cooing at the gnome-sized man. "Aw, look at him."

Andromeda looked into the bag where the elf was cowering. "We heard him getting yelled at by the clerk, who was stupid and ugly, and he looked very sad so we decided to take him."

"Besides," Bellatrix added, "This way he can come live with us and we won't have to keep borrowing from Aunt Elladora anymore, which means we'll always have one around."

"And we didn't want him to have to keep crushing his fingers in the door," Sirius added. "I did it once and it hurt so bad I cr … I almost cried."

Alphard was speechless. He kept looking from the little elf to the children with something akin to horror mixed with amazement, and he couldn't decide which was stronger.

"So… let me get this straight. You … saw an elf in need … and, even though elves are below you, you decided to help it?"

Bellatrix looked offended. "It was a mutual benefit," she told him firmly. "We got a new house elf." But her face softened slightly when she peered into the bag.

"Please don't tell," Narcissa begged. "We'll get in such trouble."

Alphard felt, foolishly, like laughing. \"So, my favorite nieces and nephews," he said, beaming, "Who wants ice cream?"

---

This confirms it, Alphard thought minutes later as he watched them eat their ice cream, "eat" being used loosely as really what was happening was a food fight of epic proportion that was bound to end in tears (probably Narcissa's).

I am never having children.