1. THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING BLACK

"Andy, hurry up! Mother will be furious if we're not on time!"

A bunch of brown hair appeared around the corner of the door. "Just a minute!" the girl referred to as Andy said and disappeared. The other girl sighed and glanced sideways at the big clock. Any moment now, they would come down the street…

"Bellatrix, Andromeda, we're leaving. Are you girls finally packed and ready?" The voice of the girls' mother was stern and severe but they didn't know her any better. She appeared just inches away from where Bella was standing, followed by a blond girl.

"Yes mother, we are ready," the girl named Bella hastily answered.

"Where's Andromeda?" she frowned.

"I'm right here mother."

Andy had appeared next to Bella and the two sisters looked at her with a blank face, hoping she wouldn't ask what they had been doing. They were sure she wouldn't approve of the items they had just purchased at the local jokes store. Andy quickly shoved a bag with the imprint Gambol&Japes in the pocket of her cloak and hoped her mother hadn't noticed.

"Well, don't just stand there, follow me!" the girls' mother bellowed and then strolled away. The three girls followed her. "We have to go to Olivander's."

"What have you been doing?" the blond girl, obviously a younger sibling, whispered.

"None of your business Cissy," Bella said. "You'll find out soon enough."

Andy grinned at the look on Cissy's face. Being the middle child, she had often endured the teasing of her elder sister but it felt good to be on the other side for a change. And as Cissy was Mum's favourite, she didn't mind too much, as long as Cissy didn't tell.

Mister Olivander, the wand maker, greeted them when they entered the store.

"Ah Madame Black, welcome." He bowed and said to Cissy: "I bet you're entering Hogwarts this year dear, and you're in need of a wand. Am I right?"

"That's right," Madame Black said before Cissy could speak.

"Well, as you probably already know, the wand chooses the wizard or witch. If I remember correctly, your own wand is a 12½" oak with a core of unicorn hair?"

Druella nodded. "And your father's," he was now talking to Cissy again, "is a 13" rowan with a core of dragon's heartstring. So, why don't we start with this one, chestnut and unicorn hair, 11¾", reasonably flexible."

He gave the wand to Cissy, but shook his head. "No, that's not right." He handed her another wand. "Yew and dragon heartstring, 12"." He took it back almost as soon as he had handed it to Cissy. He handed her a few more, but didn't seem happy until he handed her an 'elmwood, unicornhair, 11". Madame Black purchased the wand and they all left the store. Bella was silently wondering why her Mum could not have gone wand shopping with just Cissy instead of all of them but was wise enough not to utter this comment out loud.

Madame Black continued her walk throughout Diagon Alley and turned a corner. They found themselves in Knockturn Alley, full of dark and shabby shops.

The most obscure store was called Borkin&Burkes and it was towards that store they were heading. Andy felt a shiver. She hated this store, though she couldn't tell why. Bella seemed to be intrigued by it and Cissy just stayed close to their mum. Not a big fan either, Andy thought. Or maybe her younger sister was just too little too understand.

"Good afternoon, Druella." A man with a rat like face appeared and nodded. Madame Black nodded back at him. "Caractarus."

"And the misses Bellatrix, Andromeda and I assume this young lady would be miss Narcissa?" He nodded in the direction of the blond sister.

"You assume correctly," Druella replied coldly. "I would like to purchase the item we talked about."

"Right, right, now just let me see…"

"I do hope you haven't sold it, have you?" Druella raised an eyebrow and the man shook his head. "No no, off course not," he replied in a squeaky voice. "Just a minute." He scurried to the back of the store, to return in what seemed like mere seconds. He held a package in his hands and carefully handed it over to Druella. The three girls tried to see what was inside the wrapping paper as their mother opened it but she carefully blocked their view.

"Fine, that'll do," she said and replaced the wrapping paper before handing it back to the shop owner. She also gave him a large bag which, judging by the sound of it, contained a huge amount of Galleons. The package changed hands once more as Druella placed it in her bag. With one final nod she strolled out of the store.

"I hope you see that being a Black has his advantages," Druella said as they continued their walk around Knockturn Alley. The girls raised their eyebrows. They did not understand at all. But Druella gave no further explanation. The girls whispered amongst themselves as to what would be in the package their mother had bought at Borgin&Burkes. Would it be a birthday present for someone? But if that were the case, she would not have acted so mysterious about it. Perhaps it was something of a dark magic, but would any shop just be selling items like that? Even if said shop was located at Knockturn Alley? None of their ideas made any sense, so eventually, they had to give up their guessing.

Back at the Estate, Bella hurried towards her room. She shoved the packages she had been carrying under her bed, grasped a broom and ran downstairs to the garden. If she was lucky, she could just practice her flying a bit before dinner. She mounted her broom and rose into the sky. She loved the feeling of the wind blowing around her ears. She increased her speed and soared through the sky. This was just marvellous! Against odds, she secretly hoped the rules had been changed this year and that girls would be allowed on the team. She knew she could keep up with them. She had seen them play last team and she knew she was better than a lot of them. It was not likely the rules would be changed but Bella still hold on to a sparkle of possibility. She practised for about an hour and then reluctantly descended the broom when it was time for dinner to be served.

Dinner went by in silence, as it always did. The Blacks considered talking whilst consuming food highly offensive, even if it was just the family. One might even think they thought talking in its own was offensive, for parents and children hardly spoke at all with each other. Of course, they spoke to one another, but there was never chitchat or talk about emotions. The girls were raised in a formal way but held great esteem for their parents. Being a Black meant something in the wizarding community. It meant wealth and influence and the respect of other people. It meant almost being royalty, at least in their own eyes. It meant getting anything you wanted for the sheer fact that you wanted it. It meant never having to be bothered with financial problems. Being a Black also meant good marriage prospects, since they had money, intelligence and beauty.

The girls all had high cheekbones, fine features and a certain arrogance in their look. Cygnus, their father, was a tall, severe looking man. His wife Druella's features were a little softer, probably because she already had some grey in her blond hair. The daughters looked very much alike, be it that they each had a different hair colour. Bellatrix, the eldest daughter, was 16 and had long raven hair falling in thick ringlets on her back. Andromeda was two years younger. Her hair was brown and her ringlets fell just below her shoulders. Narcissa, the youngest sibling, had long blond hair. She was the only one without ringlets. She was their favourite; their pet child and they spoiled her rotten.

Bellatrix and Andromeda had been attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for several years and this year Narcissa, who had turned eleven in October, would join them. She was anxious and excited and couldn't stop asking her sisters all kind of questions about Hogwarts.

The next morning they all woke up early, because it was the first day of the new schoolyear. The girls' suitcases thumped down the stairs. Cygnus magically shrunk them so they ended up looking like handbags. They would travel by Floo powder to get to Kings Cross Station, where the Hogwarts Express would be waiting at platform 9¾, as it did every year. Bella went first, since she was the eldest. She grasped a handful of Floo Powder and said in a clear voice: "King's Cross Station." She threw the Floo Powder into the fireplace and green flames erupted around her. She felt a familiar, nauseating feeling but when she opened her eyes, she was standing in another fireplace in a large hall, filled with people. She brushed the ashes off of her and Andy and her father, who had followed quickly after her, did the same. Their mother came last, with Cissy. From this point on, they expected Bella to take care of her sisters. They never saw them off to the train, not since Andy had started Hogwarts four years ago.

"Goodbye mother, father." Bella nodded to each of them. Andy repeated her moves and with a little hesitation, so did Cissy. The Blacks did not hug in public and sparsely in the privacy of their own home. Cygnus and Druella nodded back, giving their daughters a final warning not to besmirch the Black family name and went home again by Floo powder.

"Come along," Bella muttered to Cissy. "You're not a baby anymore, sure you can get on a train on your own?" But her tone was more mocking then that it was actually unpleasant. Cissy sighed and followed her through the stonewall that separated platform Nine from platform Ten. If you went through the barrier, there was another platform, invisible for the Muggles, the non-magical people. This platform, platform 9¾, was crowded with people in cloaks. They were early, yet the big red Hogwarts Express was already waiting. After having installed Cissy in one of the compartments, Andy and Bella left to go find their friends.

Cissy felt rather alone and wished they had stayed just a little longer. But she manned up. She was a Black, wasn't she? And Blacks were supposed to take care of themselves. She didn't need her sisters alongside every step of the way. She reached in her trunk for a book and started to read.

The door burst open and a boy with blond hair stood in the doorway. "Hey, there's an almost free compartment here!" he yelled at some one Cissy couldn't see. Two boys entered the compartment. They looked her age, so she figured it would be a nice moment to get to know some of her fellow students already. She put the book back in her bag and introduced herself to them. The boy with the blond hair said his name was Ricardo Vitel and the other one, who had brown curly hair, introduced himself as Leonard Blishwick.

"Blishwick, as in family of Jimbo Blishwick?" Cissy asked intrigued. She had heard of the name, a distant relative had been married to a Jimbo Blishwick.

"Yes, he was the brother of my granddad," Leonard replied.

Ricardo cut in. "Are you really a Black?" he asked.

Cissy nodded, content with the look of awe on his face.

"So, you'll be in Slytherin then I guess."

"I suppose. My sisters are both in Slytherin, and my parents have been in Slytherin too, as have my grandparents and my uncle and aunt."

"Awesome. Leonard is probably going to be in Slytherin as well. As for me, I don't know yet where they'll put me, but I suppose everything is fine as long as I'm not in Gryffindor. My dad would kill me if I ended up in Gryffindor."

The boys laughed and Cissy laughed with them. They were kind and she figured the journey would be more pleasant with company. She hoped they would all be sorted in Slytherin and felt confident now that she knew two fellow students.

When the train arrived at Hogsmeade station, it was already starting to get dark. A gigantic man with a black beard bellowed: "Firstyears, this way!"

They followed him to a big lake, where little boats lay waiting. Older students went the other way, talking and laughing and greeting old friends.

"Come along, come along!" the man shouted at the group of first year students who stood hesitatingly at the side of the lake. Slowly, they walked to the boats. When all the students had boarded, the boats sailed themselves towards a big castle. They hadn't looked stable but it was like they glided over the water.

Bella and Andy were very happy to see their friends again. Bella's best friend Geraldine Zabini hugged them both, as did Andy's best friend Amelia Bones. The four of them got along quite well.

"How was your holiday in France, Amelia?" Bella asked. "Andy told me you've been to Paris!"

"Really?" Geraldine leaned in closer. "I heard the boys there are really good-looking…"

"Oh oh, you're only interested in boys, aren't you?" Bella said with a smile.

"What's the matter with that? I'd rather look at a nice boy than at some silly old building."

They all laughed. Geraldine looked embarrassed, which made them laugh even more.

"Sorry, this carriage is already taken," Bella said to group of second years about to get in one of the carriages.

"What? But we were here before you girls were!" one of the second years protested.

"So? We're older and besides, I'm a Black, so you'll just have to take another carriage." With an arrogant look on her face, she stepped past the dumbstruck second year student and got in the carriage. Geraldine grinned and got in as well. Andy frowned. "Bella…" she began.

"Oh shut up and get in," Bella said. "It's not like there are no other carriages."

Reluctantly, both Andy and Amelia got in. As the carriage pulled itself in the direction of the castle, Andy said:

"That was not really necessary Bella, right? We could just have taken another carriage ourselves."

"I didn't feel like waiting," Bella replied haughtily. "It'll be a lesson for them, not to linger if you want to get somewhere. Oh get over it," she added when she saw her sister's face. "They'll be fine. I'll give them Sugared Quills when we're at Hogwarts, happy now?" Her voice was drenched in sarcasm and Andy sighed. "Whatever," she shrugged finally.

As always, the Great Hall was lined with tables. Four big rows of tables, one row for each House. And of course there was also the table the teachers sat at. Bella, Andy and Geraldine walked to the tables on the left, which were Slytherin's. Amelia was in Ravenclaw so she walked over to the table left of the centre. They were barely seated when professor McGonagall, head of Gryffindor House, entered through the big doors. She was followed by a line of frightened looking first years about to be sorted.

"Look, there's Cissy!" Andy pointed. She tried to wave at her, but Cissy didn't notice.

Like every year the Sorting Hat spoke a few words about each House before the ceremony started. The first one to be sorted was Andy Abbots, a little boy with glasses. Bella grinned at Andy. "How cute, you share your name with a first year boy."

"Shut up," Andy said and stuck out her tongue.

Andy Abbots was sorted into Hufflepuff and a cheer came from the tables on the right of the centre. They watched as Melanie Adams, a pale looking girl, was sorted into Ravenclaw and Krystal Allegria into Gryffindor. They cheered for the Avery-twins Amandine and Waldemar when the Sorting Hat shouted Slytherin. Cassiopeia Bard entered Gryffindor, followed by Jeremy Belting who was sorted into Hufflepuff.

"Again, there's quite a lot of them who are not from one of the pureblood families, isn't it?" Bella frowned as she let her eyes scan the first years.

"You're right," Geraldine said. She also frowned.

"I thought last year was bad but I sure hope that it won't be any worse this year, though I highly doubt it by the look of it."

"How can they even let so many enter?" Geraldine wondered.

"I honestly don't know. I think it's Dumbledore. Mum says he's a bit of a softy when it comes to Muggles and I think she's right. Well, I'm glad Slytherin only takes on purebloods."

"Ssshh, it's Cissy's turn," Andy whispered.

"Ah well, she'll be in Slytherin with us, no doubt about it," Bella replied but she stopped talking nonetheless. She expected the Sorting Hat to shout out Slytherin the moment the Hat touched Cissy's head but much to her surprise it took some time for the Hat to finally decide that Cissy would be in the same House as her elder siblings. Cissy ran over to the Slytherin tables and was hugged by Andy and Bella.

"What took you so long?" Bella asked with a smile.

"Well, the Hat hesitated whether it should put me in Slytherin or in Ravenclaw."

Bella snorted with disdain. "Ravenclaw, as if."

"Hey, Amelia is in Ravenclaw as well," Andy objected.

"Yeah, but Cissy is a Black and Blacks ought to be in Slytherin. Imagine what Father and Mother would say if they received word that Cissy was in Ravenclaw, I'm sure they'd say it was our fault or something."

Andy nodded sadly. Yes, their parents were like that and, she hated to admit it, Bella looked more like them than she told herself. She was glad she had never told Bella that the Hat had hesitated with her as well. She might have been a Hufflepuff, which in Bella's eyes was even worse than being a Ravenclaw, though not nearly as bad as being a Gryffindor. She shook her head to drive the thought away.

"Anyway, you're in Slytherin now," she smiled. "We're very proud of you and I'm sure Mother and Father will be too." She gave Cissy an extra hug before Cissy sat down. The Sorting Ceremony had continued and it was Leonard Blishwick's turn.

Bella eyebrows rose in surprise. "Blishwick?" she said. "As in…"

"Family of Jimbo yes," Cissy replied matter of factly. "He's really nice."

"You've met him?"

"Yes, we shared a compartment on the Hogwarts Express." She felt a sense of joy when she saw she had somehow managed to impress her elder sister.

"That's a Black all right, befriending the son of one of the great wizarding families on your very first day at Hogwarts," Bella said admiringly. "Good job Cis!"

They cheered when Leonard was indeed sorted in Slytherin, just as Ricardo had predicted. He took a seat on the other side of the tables and Cissy smiled at him. She was glad he was a Slytherin too, because it meant they would share classes.

The Ceremony went on and on. To Cissy's disappointment, Ricardo was sorted into Hufflepuff, not Slytherin. That meant they would still have some classes together, but that they couldn't really hang out. She glanced at Leonard and saw he was disappointed too.

When there was only one girl left, Geraldine poked Bella. "My god, that's Celine!"

"Celine?"

"My aunt Agnosta's daughter. We're not really close with that part of the family anymore; something to do with an inheritance, I don't know the details. I had no idea she was old enough to attend Hogwarts already."

They watched and when Celine was, much to the shock of Geraldine, sorted into Gryffindor House, headmaster Dumbledore rose from his seat. The murmuring that had been going on ceased and the Great Hall fell silent.

"To all our new students I say welcome!" professor Dumbledore spoke. "And to all of you who have returned, welcome back. The Forbidden Forest is, as the name already indicates, still forbidden for students. You may also have noticed that one of the chairs behind me is empty. Unfortunately, professor McMillan has found himself with a very nasty case of dragon pox and won't be teaching for a while. This means that, for the time being, there will be no Defense Against the Dark Arts classes."

A cheer erupted from the students. That meant more free time for the time being. Dumbledore raised his hands. "However…" he continued and everyone fell silent again.

"However," he repeated, "we try our best to find a substitute teacher as soon as possible and since we care deeply about your education, all missed lessons will have to be taken later in the year."

The students now groaned. That meant extra hours when McMillan was back and the idea of an overly filled schedule did not appeal to many students.

"Well, that's it for now. Prefects, Head Boys and Girls, you have all received the passwords for your Houses I presume?"

He looked around the Great Hall and saw that several students were nodding.

"Very well. For now, enjoy your meal!"

Out of nowhere the tables filled themselves with all kinds of food.
"Thank goodness, I'm starving!" Andy said.

After a very copious meal, everybody sat back, relaxed and filled with food. The magical ceiling showed the stars that were also visible through the large windows. The food disappeared as quickly as it had appeared and the students began to rise.

The sisters Black linked their arms together as they walked down the stairs to the dungeons that hold the dormitories and student room of Slytherin House.

"Norwegian Ridgeback," the Prefect said and the entrance to the Slytherin common room slid open. They entered the common room, which was also silver and green. Two large snakes flanked the fireplace, in which a cosy fire burned. But the thing that was most astonishing was the sight from the windows. The Slytherin common room was situated below water level, so they had a clear view of the Black Lake and its inhabitants.

"Wow, it's beautiful!" Cissy said in awe.

"Yeah, it's not bad," Andy grinned. "Wait until you see the Giant Squid!"

A couple of Slytherin students sunk down on the comfortable couch or chairs close to the fireplace. Bella was amongst them. Some of the first years were yawning.

"I think you'd better go to bed," Geraldine advised. "Lessons start early tomorrow and it's getting rather late already.

"Hey what are ye, me mum?" one of the boys said defensively.

"Well, actually, I think she's right. I don't know about you lot, but I'm off to bed," a ginger girl said. More first years followed her example and Cissy also took off.

"Welcome to Hogwarts," Andy grinned at Cissy before she left for the dormitories.