A Mother's Tragedy

Disclaimer: The House of Black, the Weasleys, Hogwarts, Harry Potter, Slytherin, Gryffindor, Muggles, St. Mungo's, the Wizengamot, Azkaban, etc. are all the property of the inimitable J. K. Rowling. I do not own any of them, nor do I pretend to, nor do I profit in any way from playing around in her world, saving the immense enjoyment I derive therefrom.

A/N: Thanks to QChronoD and dancergirl7 for the reviews! To clarify, this Sirius is the first Sirius Black on the Black Family Tree, the elder brother of Phineas Nigellus, so little Phineas is in fact the future headmaster. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

Cygnus Black sat in his favourite armchair in the parlour of number twelve, Grimmauld Place, gazing out fondly at his four children as they frolicked in the small park that lay in the centre of the square. His beautiful wife Ella sat alongside him doing her needlepoint—a green dragon for Phineas's room that, once completed, would roar and breathe fire during daylight hours. Outside, eight-year-old Sirius led his younger siblings in what appeared to be a delightful game of Wizards and Muggles. Had Cygnus been a bit younger and rather less dignified, he would happily have joined in the amusement.

'It's difficult to imagine that Sirius will be off to school in only three years, is not it?" Cygnus commented to his wife.

'Don't remind me, Cygnus,' Ella chided. 'I don't think I shall ever be prepared for that.'

Cygnus chuckled and got up to pour himself another cup of tea.

'Would you care for some, my dear?' he asked.

'Yes, please,' his wife replied.

'Sirius will do very well at Hogwarts, I should think,' Cygnus continued as he dropped two sugars into Ella's tea. 'He's quite bright.'

'So bold and decisive, too,' Ella agreed. 'He'll have the other pupils eating out of his hand.'

'Be careful, my dear,' Cygnus said wryly. 'With a description such as that, the Sorting Hat may well decide to place the lad in Gryffindor.' He handed Ella her tea, and then went back to fix his own.

Ella laughed heartily as she took the cup and saucer. 'Oh, I doubt we shall have to worry about that, Cygnus,' she said. 'I think Sirius has learnt how to manage people perfectly well. He'll fit right in with his cousins in Slytherin House.' She set down her tea and clicked her tongue disapprovingly. 'Look at that. Those Muggle boys are breaking up the children's game. Perhaps you ought to intervene, Cygnus.'

Cygnus did not look up from his tea.

'If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, my dear,' he said. 'We must permit the children to handle these sorts of things on their own. How else will they ever learn?'

Ella sighed. 'You're right, I suppose. It's just that these children are so much bigger than ours.'

Cygnus harrumphed. 'They're Muggles, Ella,' he said. 'I'm sure our children can take care of themselves.'

Ella shrieked. 'Good heavens, Cygnus!' she exclaimed. 'The Muggle boys are hitting Sirius!'

Cygnus turned around in alarm, accidentally knocking over his cup. It was true. Three large Muggle boys, lower class, probably around fifteen or so, were violently assaulting his son. Cygnus did not hesitate. He ran out the front door with his wand out, but the boys saw him coming and dashed off, leaving Sirius lying on the ground, unmoving.

Cygnus ran across the square to his children. Phineas, always a good boy, had been running back to fetch his parents when his father came outside and was now herding his sisters back in. Cygnus lifted his son's bruised and bloodied form from the grass and carried him back into the house. Ella shrieked when she saw him.

'Squeaky,' she called out, and the house-elf appeared in the doorway. 'Go to St. Mungo's right away,' Ella commanded. 'Find a Healer and bring him back here. Master Sirius is in danger.'

The elf Disapparated with a loud pop, and Cygnus carried his son into the parlour and laid him on the divan. He waved his wand over the boy and murmured incantations, but he was no Healer. Sirius was fading fast. Ella knelt beside her eldest boy and clutched his hand, whispering soothing words the entire time. Phineas quietly took Elladora and Isla up to the nursery.

Squeaky returned moments later with Archibald Weasley, but it was too late. The Healer did what he could, but within minutes Sirius was dead. The bestial brutality had been too much for him. Amazingly, Cygnus thought, Ella stopped crying the moment Sirius breathed his last. She called Phineas down from the nursery.

'What happened?' she asked sharply.

The small boy fought back tears. 'It was my fault, Mother,' he said. 'The Muggles were taunting us because of our robes, and I made a smart comment about their clothes…and their families. One of them threatened to hit me, but Sirius said that if they had any problems with me they ought to take it up with him.' He broke into sobs. 'And they did.'

'Filthy, wretched Muggles,' Ella snarled. Cygnus did not at all like the look in her eyes.

'Ella, my dear,' he said quietly. 'There's nothing we can do about it now.'

'Oh, no, Cygnus,' she said coldly. 'There most certainly is something I can do about it.' She stood up and stormed out the front door. Moments later, Cygnus heard a terrible shout.

'CONFRINGO!' Ella yelled. A terrible explosion followed. And another. And another. Cygnus ran outside, followed closely by Weasley. Ella stood in the centre of the square, blasting one Muggle home after another. Their inhabitants were sent scurrying. As the hapless Muggles exited their ruined homes, Ella turned her rage on them.

'CRUCIO!' she shouted, and threw Muggle after Muggle into convulsive fits.

'Blast it, Black,' Weasley said, coming up behind Cygnus. 'You have to stop her. She's hurting innocent people.'

'People?' Cygnus scoffed. 'You really think they're people, Weasley?' He snarled. 'Some of those so-called "people" just murdered my eight-year-old son. "People" would not do such a thing.' His thin lips quivered with rage. 'My grandfather was right,' he murmured. 'I never realized it before, but now I do. Muggles aren't people, Weasley. They're vermin.'

'Black, are you mad?' Weasley shouted. 'She's using Unforgivables on Muggles! They'll send her to Azkaban for this!'

'Who's going to tell them, Weasley? You?' The look in Cygnus's grey eyes was ice-cold.

Weasley stammered in response and then fell silent, shaking his head. 'I shan't tell, Black. But we need to stop her. Now.'

Just then Ella noticed the boys who had attacked Sirius running amongst the scurrying, screaming Muggles. She pointed her wand at them and uttered the terrible words Cygnus had never imagined that those sweet lips could even pronounce.

'Avada Kedavra,' she whispered, and the boys dropped down dead. Then Ella Black fainted, and Weasley helped Cygnus carry her inside, abandoning the Muggles outside to the rising conflagration.

Weasley kept his word, but the Wizengamot still found out. Apparently a Muggle-born witch who lived nearby had witnessed the whole affair and informed the Ministry. Cygnus had not been too concerned about the trial. The name of Black counted for a great deal, and, naturally, so did the considerable Black family fortune. Even learning that the notorious Muggle-lover George Weasley would be the prosecutor did not upset Cygnus. After all, Cygnus had gone to school with George Weasley's nephew Archibald, and Cygnus felt sure that the younger Weasley, despite his disappointing ineptitude as a Healer, would put in a good word with his uncle.

The problem, however, turned out to lie with Ella herself. If she had been willing simply to sit quietly through the trial, natural sympathy for the family tragedy, helped along with a little Black money, would have easily got her off. But Ella instead chose to close her defence with a long, violent rant. She had already called on the Wizengamot to make the Thames run red with the 'filthy blood of Muggle swine' when Cygnus finally prevailed upon her to sit down and shut up. After that, Weasley's arguments seemed a bit more persuasive, and the Wizengamot voted by the narrowest of margins to convict Ella Black. Cygnus felt privately that it was a testament to the dignity of the Black family name that so many voted to acquit her, though the number of cousins he and Ella had sitting on the court might have been a factor. In the end, however, Ella was torn from her crying children and carted off to Azkaban.

When Cygnus returned home to number twelve, Grimmauld Place, certain things changed. In the first place, he made the house completely invisible to Muggle eyes. To them, the houses would look as though they skipped from number eleven to number thirteen without a break. Secondly, Cygnus forbade the children to play in the square, or even to venture out in front without the company of an adult or house-elf. From then on, the Black children played only in the back garden. Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, what had been no more than the common prejudice against Muggles turned into a fully fledged hatred of Muggles, Muggle-borns and so-called 'blood traitors.' For the first time, the word 'Mudblood,' which Cygnus had previously avoided as rather uncouth, became the normal way of referring to Muggle-born witches and wizards.

As for the Weasleys, they were never invited to any events hosted by the Black family, and Cygnus was known to leave parties and even important meetings if he so much as caught a glimpse of red hair. Since the Blacks had rather more money than the Weasleys, high society gradually excluded the Weasleys altogether, and the family – never wealthy at the best of times – sank into true poverty.

The Daily Prophet, however, under the enlightened editorship of Betelgeuse Black, was a reliable support all through that troubled time. A series of articles explained how poor Ella had only tried to protect her unfortunate son from brutal murder at the hands of a mad Muggle lynch mob, and popular opinion swung sharply in favour of the Blacks and against 'that miserable farce of a trial,' as the Prophet called it. Within six months Ella was back from the Dementors, but Azkaban had only confirmed her in her madness. Cygnus kept her out of sight in an upper room, where she sat all day long, sipping tea and chatting with her dead son's portrait, or else yelling and cursing invisible Muggles right and left.

Phineas, Elladora and Isla suffered the most from the changes. They were only permitted to see their mother at bedtime, when they came into her room single file, kissed her hand and cheek, and bid her goodnight, whilst she kept up her incessant conversation with poor Sirius. Cygnus would sit up half the night with his afflicted wife, trying to soothe her madness. She never even noticed he was there.

With their father so absorbed by the care of their poor mother, an obsession exacerbated by his own profound grief, the Black children were largely left to raise themselves. Squeaky took care of their basic needs and tutors came by to give them their lessons, but otherwise the children were free to do as they pleased. Utter chaos might have resulted had Phineas not stepped in to fill the void.

Still only six years old when his elder brother perished and his mother went mad, Phineas bore a heavy sense of guilt for all that had taken place. He devoted himself wholeheartedly to work and study, hoping never again to be in a position where he needed another to fight his battles. He managed his sisters as well, and despite their father's benign neglect, the Black children worked more diligently and played less than any other children their age. Isla, it is true, chafed under her brother's domination. She was only two when the tragedy occurred, and not quite ready to grow up so quickly. Elladora, however, thrived, and as she grew older stepped gladly into her responsibilities as lady of the house. The Black children made quite an impression at social gatherings, with their expensive and impeccable robes and old-fashioned manners. (Phineas drilled the children nightly based on his understanding of proper etiquette, based on some old books he had found in the family library.) And the children always remembered their place in the world, as members of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, pure-blooded wizards of unparalleled breeding and fortune.