Author's Notes: THE BLACK CHILDREN WILL NOT LEAVE ME ALONE.

I tried to do a bit of a closer look at them here, and messed around at first with a bunch of different pairings. It's easy to lose individuality when they're all together, because I think they seem to get sort of a mob mentality, so I split them up here. I love Sirius and Narcissa, because they are so completely different and it's so much fun to write them together, since neither one can fully understand the other.

I also love writing Andromeda and Bellatrix, because in my mind they are both so very clear. Andromeda is simply Bellatrix's conscience manifested in her sister, which explains why she is absolutely devoid of one now. I think that Bellatrix has a sort of madness in her, yes, but a lot of that only came out after Azkaban; in the First War, my mind's personal cannon has the source of her cruelty as a mix of different factors: firm belief in Pureblooded superiority, of course, and a total lack of respect for "Mudbloods", but also the feeling of being betrayed by someone who she considered an extension of herself. Without Andromeda, Bellatrix has no one that can tell her when she is wrong that she will listen to. Andromeda is Bella's conscience, so without her, Bella is free to do what she wants without guilt or even the knowledge that there should be guilt. She's a sociopath at eleven, and Andromeda is the barrier between her and her eventual self.

…And Kreacher-Regulus love is precious, so I included. Because, aww.

And All Through The House

'Twas the night before Christmas

and all through the house

not a creature was stirring,

not even a mouse.

More than the rest of them, Sirius hated Christmas shopping, because it meant that afterwards he would have to wrap everything. Oh, it was one thing for Bella and Meda, who just nicked their mum's wand and used the spells that Meda had learned through her disgusting habit of reading the educational textbooks which Uncle Cygnus had stashed in his library, or even Cissa, who just did everything perfectly anyway, but all of his gifts ended up looking mangled and oddly lumpy. He looked down at the knot of ribbon and paper and sighed, kicking it sourly away with his foot.

The gift rolled over twice and came to a stop a few feet away, looking particularly pathetic in the flickering light.

He'd already asked the new elf, Kreacher, to wrap it for him, but the worthless thing had even less gift-wrapping experience then him, and anyway, it seemed like all it was ever happy doing was minding Reggie. And no, he was not jealous that his dumb little brother seemed at least as obsessed with the new elf as he was with Sirius. Reggie was just a baby, anyway. What did he know?

Sirius harrumphed and leaned grumpily against his bed. That was it. He was giving up. He didn't care if his stupid mum yelled at him again this year or not, he wasn't going to humiliate himself by handing out gifts that looked like they'd come out the wrong end of a hippogriff.

A loud clap of thunder outside made Sirius jumped, and he abruptly wished that it were a bit brighter. He was afraid of storms, because Blacks aren't afraid of anything, but still. Something that loud had to be dangerous, just the way something as ugly as a goblin was definitely bad news.

There was a dazzling flash of light, followed by another vicious stomp of thunder and the dueling sounds brought with them the sound of little feet scampering down the hall and his doors cracking open. A head of long, blonde hair peeped around the edge of the door and he found Cissa's wide brown eyes staring at him.

She smiled, looking a bit relieved to find him alone, and let herself in, closing the door quietly behind her. "I'm not scared," were the first words out of her mouth, despite the fact that she was trembling in her nightgown and kept looking nervously at the window.

"Me either," Sirius said, and made sure he kept his clenched fists hidden in his lap.

"I was just stopping by on my way to the kitchen," Cissa added, for emphasis.

Sirius tried not to show that he was a bit relieved to have company, given the darkened state of his room and his glum mood. Narcissa probably wouldn't have been his first choice, of course, because although they were the same age they didn't really have anything in common, on account of how he liked to wrestle and have food fights and play jokes on people and she liked, um, brushing her hair.

The lightening outside flashed again, and Cissa walked hurriedly to sit beside him, their shoulders barely brushing. "So, um, what're you doing?" She asked awkwardly, trying for casual.

Sirius coughed, too embarrassed about his utter failure when it came to wrapping gifts to tell her about it, so he just shrugged. "I was just awake," he said simply, having found at the age of four after the Toffee-and-Aunt-Druella Incident that if you can't think of a proper alibi it was better not to give one at all. He sent his cousin a sideways glance. "Not because of the storm, or anything."

Cissa nodded. "Oh, right. Me neither. I was just thirst—" A particularly loud clap of thunder shook the house, and involuntarily Cissa made a frightened peep and grabbed Sirius's hand. Feeling a bit awkward, he kept his hand limp in hers but didn't shake her off, either. Cissa was such a girl.

After the noise passed, Cissa straightened herself, having the grace to look a bit embarrassed and released him. Still, she shuffled a bit closer to him and defiantly met his eyes. "I was just thirsty," she finished, as if she hadn't been interrupted. "I was going to get a glass of—what is that?"

She pointed at the contorted package in the center of his floor, and Sirius winced, scrambling to hide it. "Nothing," he told her miserably. "It was going to be a Christmas gift but it's being stupid so it's nothing."

Cissa leveled him with one of her looks, the kind that Meda and Bella always called her "Mommy Glare" on account of how it made him feel like Aunt Druella, or worse, his mother was about to scold him. Wordlessly, Cissa held out a prim hand and resettled herself on her knees. "Give it to me," she demanded at his hesitance.

Sirius obeyed, shamefacedly producing the gift.

Cissa took it with a look of distaste, holding it away from her as if it smelled. "This is bad," she told him plainly, giving him a look which suggested it was somehow his fault that he was incapable of wrapping gifts. He scowled, offended.

Girls were stupid, he decided, and anyway, what right did she have to judge? She was afraid of a puny little storm.

Then she sighed. "We're going to have to start from the beginning."

With that, Cissa tore the paper off the package and handed it to Sirius, leaving no room for argument. He watched with horror as all his hard work came apart with a single rip of her nails. She went to work on the gift with focus and determination, looking for all the world like a Healer with a patient. Sirius watched in awe as her fingers seemed to magically convince the paper to lay flat, and fold prettily, and bend in ways that paper was not meant to bend.

So lost in her work was she that when a loud rumble of thunder battered against the window, she didn't even look up. In minutes, Narcissa held up the newly-wrapped gift, shining and perfect with the help of her handiwork, a gleam of victory shining in her eyes.

Sirius's jaw dropped, all affront forgotten as he beheld the gorgeously decorated package. "It's … beautiful," he murmured.

Narcissa smiled smugly. "Yes, it is," she agreed, happily, setting the present delicately on the floor.

A rip of lightening illuminated her face and, freed from the oblivion her task had given her, her face melted into fear. She didn't reach for her cousin this time, but she clenched her fists in her lap and glanced worriedly at the window, looking like she wanted to cry.

Still feeling grateful for her help with his gift, Sirius shifted a bit closer to her and nudged her shoulder with his. He was glad she didn't still want to hold hands or anything, but he did feel bad for her, as he imagined she was feeling the way he always did when they had to go get money from the bank. So he reached under his bed and pulled out the other gifts he'd attempted to wrap.

"Wanna help me fix 'em?" He asked cheerfully, figuring that there couldn't be any harm in benefitting from helping his cousin.

Cissa fixed him with a look that told him she knew exactly what he was doing, but she was thankful anyway. "You can't give these to people," she told him firmly, and he nodded, because with Cissa he'd learned it was always best to pretend that the whole thing had been her idea. "I guess I'll have to teach you."

Lost in Cissa's exasperation over Sirius atrocious wrapping and his concentration of starting anew, both children quite forgot about the storm.

--

The storm had wakened them both at the same time. Though there were many empty guest rooms in Grimmauld Place, Meda and Bella always chose to stay together. Neither girl saw the point of separating when each knew that, come bedtime, one would inevitably find the other and crawl into bed with her. It was their routine, to hide under the covers and whisper until their eyelids were too heavy to keep open.

It was Meda who had crawled into Bella's bed, this time, too excited about Christmas the next day to stay put in her own. "Tell me about Hogwarts," she whispered, pressing her forehead against her sister's. "Is it true that you have to fight a troll to get in the front doors?"

Bella snorted, leveling her with a look that wasn't hard to read. "Of course not," she said patronizingly, though she herself had wondered about it during her first ride on the Express. "You just go inside with this bumbling giant chap and they put a hat on your head and it tells you where to sit."

Meda frowned. "There's assigned seating? But what if I'm not next to you?"

"No, no, not at the tables. It just tells you which House you're in. You'll be in Slytherin, obviously, because Blacks are always in Slytherin and that's where I am. You'll know almost everybody already by the time you get there—Juliana Rosier's going to be coming up next year with you, and so's Naiobe Bulstrode and Medea Nott."

Meda giggled. "Medea's mum's the one whose dress robes Sirius set on fire last year, isn't she?"

Bella snickered, snuggling closer to her sister for warmth. "Serves her right. That fat ugly pug of a woman wouldn't know a laugh if it bit her on the nose."

Meda frowned, lightly tapping Bella's arm in a scold. "You shouldn't be so mean," she admonished lightly. "Sometimes it's better not to tell people what you're thinking."

Her sister drew away slightly, looking confused. "Why?" She wasn't mad at the reproach, though she would have been if it came from anyone else. Stubborn, passionate, and intense, the oldest Black daughter had been given to dark mood swings since infanthood. But Bella never got mad at Meda. It wasn't possible. Meda was the angel on her sister's shoulder, the gentle voice of reason where Bella was all intensity and shoot-first-ask-later. How could Bella get mad at her conscience?

"Because it might hurt their feelings!"

Bella frowned. She never stopped to think about things like that; it simply didn't register. Of course she was supposed to say what she thought about people; it was her right as a Black. She was the oldest Black daughter, so she was in charge, and therefore she had every right to use whoever she wanted to get her way. That's what her parents had told her since the beginning. "That's what I have you for, Drommie," Bella whispered, using the name Cissa had when she was still little and incapable of saying Andromeda. The eleven-year-old clutched at her sister with sudden intensity. "You'll always be here, won't you."

Meda cocked her head, looking puzzled. "Where else am I going to go?" She asked simply. "You need me."

The simple truth behind the words calmed Bella and she laughed, curling back into her position beside Meda and shaking her head slightly. "You're too nice, though, Meda. If you keep on like that you'll just get walked all over your whole life. You have to show people who's boss, got to make sure they know you're in charge."

And Meda simply rested her head on Bella's arm, giggling again as she thought of Mrs. Nott's face as her husband frantically dropped glass after glass of wine on her fancy dress. "That's what I have you for, stupid," she said.

--

Kreacher stood above the baby's bed, looking down at the sleeping child with elfish intensity. This family wasn't much different from the Master he had left—they hit him when he didn't do well, locked him in small closets and kicked him about.

But not Master Regulus. Master Regulus loved him. Master Regulus always wanted to be with him and play with him, and sometimes got mad at the older children when they tied him up or hit him too hard. Master Regulus was kind to him, the first time any of his owners had been, and that, had earned him Kreacher's devotion until the very day that he died.

Master Regulus murmured in his sleep, disturbed by some strange dream, and the house elf put a gentle hand on his forehead and shushed him, humming God Bless Ye Merry Hippogriffs until the child calmed, and settled back into a peaceful, easy slumber.