In Bad Faith Chapter 15
A Harry Potter Self-Insert Fanfiction
Chapter XV – Interlude II
Faithful & Faithless
For Sagittarius and Virgo Black, British Wizarding culture was strange.
The twins had grown up in a bizarre mixture of the European continental Wizarding world and the muggle world which occupied the same geographical location. Their father had never explained the matter to them fully, but each of his children had understood he was running from someone or something. Their earliest memories were of the Mediterranean coasts of Spain and France, where their father had put down roots for a few years before they were old enough to travel. Even then, though, the world they had lived in was not the gilded society of the upper crust wizards and witches.
"Oh, look, it's the two little halfblood failures," a loud voice announced, obviously drawing attention to herself.
The Black twins looked up from their inspection of a wizarding chess set, Virgo's eyes narrowed to slits and Tarry's wide with the helpless naivete of an introverted and painfully shy child.
Elzbeth Fawley, a girl their age from a nominally pureblood house, though one which ranked far below the Blacks in prestige, political power, and financial wealth.
Elzbeth, though, was a pureblood.
That was the important part.
Tarry's eyes flickered to Virgo's as she fanned the fingers of her left hand and laid them flat against the table they'd taken for themselves. It was an example of what they'd taken to calling 'twinspeak.' The gestures and motions that the two had crafted over the years to give them their own 'secret code' to communicate with. In this specific instance, Virgo had 'said' that he should stay put and wait for help.
The boy didn't ask what his sister meant by 'help.'
Instead, Tarry swallowed and curled the fingers of his right hand around his thumb, making an awkward fist. It was a sign that Virgo's message had been received and he agreed to do as she said. It was a sign he used a lot.
All this passed without Elzbeth's notice, her dark hair swinging in the short fashion she'd taken to wearing it after the last...incident. The pureblood girl's blue eyes narrowed in frustration as she failed to get the rise she'd expected. "What's wrong? Have the two stains on the Black heritage finally learned not to talk back to their betters?"
Virgo scowled, "We were only wondering when a little yappy dog was going to finally shut itself up. Whaddya' think Tarry, is she still upset about her haircut?"
The few cronies who had followed Elzbeth into the confrontation winced at Virgo's words. Ozymandias Burke and Westerly Rowle in particular flinched back their eyes widening as Elzbeth's face darkened in an angry flush.
"Yo-you-mongrels," Elzbeth growled. "Why don't you do the world, and your father, a favor and curl up and die."
Tarry winced as his sister stood.
There were a few things that could get Virgo truly angry. Talking about their births had damaged their father's political standing and his ability to inherit the Black estates was a sure-fired way to get his sister's dander up. Resigning himself, he stood up to back his sister because...well, that was one thing he agreed with the purebloods on. His sister was family, and whatever came their way, he'd have her back.
"Be careful what kind of insults you throw around, Elzbeth, you never know who might be listening. I'd hate for a real pureblood to hear how uncouth your tongue is," Virgo spat.
"Like Malfoy?" Elzbeth parried, rolling her eyes as her temper cooled. "Grow up and fight your own battles, halfbreed. The Demon won't always be around when you need her."
Tarry bit back a scowl.
He didn't know if Desdemona knew what some people called her behind her back, but on the off-chance she didn't, he wasn't going to be the first to broach the subject.
"Big words for someone who only graces us with her company when our dearest cousin is not present," Virgo sneered. Tarry gave it at least a six on the scale of one to Malfoy. Desdemona herself, he'd noticed, could only rate an eight on that metric. Her father, though, had cornered the market on the superior pureblood sneer.
"At least I can speak," Elzbeth spat haughtily. "Unlike your idiot of a brother over there-"
Tarry's eyes widened as Virgo's hand clenched so hard the knuckles turned white.
"At least Sagittarius can restrain himself from base insults, Elzbeth Dear." The so-named girl's mouth seemed to freeze from in it's open position, her next words dropping like lead from her tongue.
Tarry sighed silently, torn between relief and exasperation.
Dez just had to make the dramatic entrance.
"Desdemona," Elzbeth swallowed, turning to face Tarry and Virgo's cousin even as her two primary lackeys began to back away. Virgo scowled and crossed her arms in silent irritation. The easy air by which the blonde assumed control of their social group rankled, if for no other reason than Virgo herself was envious of it. Then again, Virgo realized she envied Desdemona 'The Demon' Malfoy quite a bit.
"Elzbeth," the black heiress greeted nonchalantly, stepping around her with barely even a nod to acknowledge her presence.
He just knew that kind of snub wouldn't end well.
"I suppose you're here to consort with these failures once again," Elzbeth sniped, her tone more confident. "You could do so much better, you know."
Tarry nearly sighed. He might not be able to 'play' at his cousin's level, but he knew enough to see a baited trap when he came across it. Desdemona had intentionally dropped courtesy and 'forgotten' to bow at the Fawley girl, almost inviting her to attack.
Desdemona turned a sneer towards her opponent, the expression devoid of friendliness. "Elzbeth...I don't know if you've noticed, but I am better. You keep trying to tear down people like it will win you some prize. Do you truly care that much about a game you can't possibly win? Maybe you think people will actually like you if you can convince them you're popular? Perhaps even...Blaise?"
Virgo's lip twitched in approval as the quick repetition of verbal blows struck home. A fiery crimson blush rose over Elzbeth's face at the mention of her not-so-secret crush.
"I-I don't know-" The young Fawley attempted to rally.
"No, you really don't," Desdemona practically purred. "Though perhaps I'll take pity on you and explain. After all, the young heir Zabini and I just had another bout the other day. You came up in conversation during a break, you know?"
"I-did?" Elzbeth squeaked, her eyes large.
Tarry shook his head, wishing for all the world he could warn the girl, but knowing it was too late.
"You did," Desdemona nodded, now taking slow and ponderous steps towards her prey. "In fact, I believe I recall what Blaise said..." The Malfoy girl leaned in more closely, her lips almost brushing Elzbeth's ear as she whispered something short and painful.
Tarry knew instantly that it was painful, of course, because he could see Elzbeth's eyes well up with tears, hurt and heartache plain on her face as she retreated from a bemused and smiling Desdemona Malfoy. As her opponent fled, the youngest Malfoy turned a challenging glare on the remainder of the crowd, cowing each in turn, before returning her attention to the Black twins.
The hairs on the back of Virgo's neck rose as she glimpsed something mean and venomous behind her friend's eyes before it vanished flicker-quick. She hated the part of herself that flinched away from Desdemona, the part that was scared of her, not only because she had every right to be afraid of the other girl.
Desdemona held her family's welfare in the palm of her hand and could reduce them to paupers in less than a decade. Her brother, her father, and her own fate hung in the balance of her cousin's good favor. Even as she tried to swallow that bitter pill again, the youngest Malfoy sat down and served herself a few morsels from the central tray.
"So...you and Zabini tried to stab each other again," Virgo commented blithely, as if the blonde girl hadn't just sent someone fleeing with tears in their eyes. "This makes the...twelfth time, right? How badly did he beat you?"
Desdemona sent a truly foul glare towards Virgo even as Tarry bit back a grin. 'Demon' she might be to everyone else, but Desdemona had never taken any of her anger out on either of them, or the Carrows for that matter, even when she had every reason to.
"And what makes you think he won?" Desdemona asked primly as she selected a mixture of vegetables to compliment her steak. The slight blush rising on her cheeks belied the question, though.
"You're right," Virgo smiled gamely. "I shouldn't assume. It's just that Blaise has won...nine? Nine of your fights?"
The question hung as Desdemona took her time chewing and swallowing.
"Fine," the youngest Malfoy breathed out through her nose harshly. "I lost, happy? I got my rich little arse kicked six ways to Sunday, alright? Can we drop the subject now?" Her eyes narrowed as she dared either twin to contradict her.
"It's not a bad thing to lose every now and then," Tarry spoke up quietly, shifting uneasily. "That's what you've always said, right? Losing is a learning experience."
Desdemona sagged slightly in her chair at having her own words thrown back at her. Virgo fought down a smirk at the sight. "Leave her alone, Tarry," Virgo said, her lips twitching, "Little miss perfect Malfoy just isn't happy she's a normal witch and not some super-Merlin. I bet she's just waiting to go out and take down a giant or something, like in that latest Harry Potter. She's already sore at her parents finding that painting thing she did, that illuminated whatchamacallit that she copied out of those old books."
"It's not copying," Desdemona nearly spat bitterly. "They're in the public domain, but Mother doesn't care about that does she? It doesn't matter that it took me weeks to piece together that single page after tracing dozens of different designs from a hundred manuscripts. All that matters is that she gets to brag."
Virgo rolled her eyes, "Yes, it's just so hard having such a great reputation, isn't it? When no one realizes you're just spectacular instead of awesome?"
"That's not true," Tarry countered, "Dez is awesome, way better than Harry Potter. She's smarter than anyone else our age and she can play the violin way better than you can and she can speak almost as many languages as we can. All those books are just made up anyway."
Desdemona smiled openly at her defender even as Virgo fixed her brother with a harsh stare, sticking her tongue out rebelliously.
"Thank you Tarry," the youngest Malfoy nodded, then looked back to Virgo, "but Virgo's right. I need to remember I'm not perfect. Even if I should be able to stomp Blaise into the ground," here she frowned, "even if I should be able to do better..."
Desdemona's stare gained that faraway quality that the girl so often had when lost in self-recrimination and criticism. Virgo sighed and crossed her arms disagreeably, "It's really hard to tease you when you get like that, you know. Why can't you ever get mad at me for making fun of you?"
The blonde girl gave her a wistful smile. "I try not to get angry, Virgo, you know that. Getting angry barely ever solves anything."
"Then what would you call that?" Virgo snorted, gesturing towards where the Fawley girl had run off.
"Good entertainment?" Desdemona asked calmly with a raised brow. She shrugged, "if a brat comes over to start a fight, I'll oblige her, especially if she's attempting to pick on my friends. You don't have to be angry to tell someone like her off. I'm just tired of people thinking you're easy pickings when I'm not around."
Tarry gave his best impersonation of one of Desdemona's superior looks.
"Well, at least we won't have to put up with those purebloods on our trip," Tarry sighed irritably.
Desdemona's lips twitched.
Virgo glared at her brother.
Tarry blinked, her eyes slowly widening, "I-I didn't mean it like that! You're not-I mean-"
Desdemona snickered, shaking her head and standing, "I know what you mean, Tarry. It's okay, I'm not mad. We should get ready to leave anyway, doesn't your father have a portkey in the next hour or so?"
"Right," Virgo nodded, eager to get out of the upper-crust company around them. "Shouldn't you say goodbye to Flora and Hestia, though? Where are they, anyway? I thought they were looking forward to Lughnasadh."
"St. Mungo's," Desdemona replied, a sly grin on her face. "They turned themselves and their tutor blue."
"Blue?" Tarry asked, his eyes shining with laughter.
"Blue," Desdemona nodded. "Draco thought it was such a pedestrian feat of accidental magic. I think he's forgotten the time he turned our eagle owl green."
"No silver?" Virgo asked, her own smile wide, knowing how much Desdemona's older brother anticipated being sorted into Slytherin.
"Sadly no," Desdemona grinned, before her expression mellowed. "Has your father had any luck in contacting Uncle Pollux or Uncle Arcturus?"
Both Black twins exchanged awkward and uncertain stares.
"Dad...didn't want us to hear," Tarry said awkwardly. "He got really angry last week when someone from the French ministry of magic came by. I think they found Uncle Pollux's body a few years back after he'd gone into hiding."
Desdemona said something quiet and angry that would have earned her shocked gasps from her parents. There was a long moment of silence as the trio made their way back into Malfoy Manor, in which Desdemona's expression slowly cleared, though Virgo had little idea what had upset her in the first place.
Pollux and Arcturus Black, her and Tarry's great-grandfathers on paternal grandmother and grandfather's sides respectively, were the only people who could have, with any legitimacy, challenged Desdemona's inheritance of the Black money, lands, and headship. Both had disappeared during the war, likely a result of being as apolitical as possible. To hear the twin's father tell it, for all that the Black's had possessed a rather large amount of political power, it had been largely the work of Orion Black.
"So that means the Dark Lord got him?" Virgo asked finally, braving the silence of her cousin's contemplation.
Desdemona sighed, frowning as she lead them through the halls of Malfoy Manor. "Probably. He was probably angry he couldn't find your father-shite."
Both twins stared at their cousin as she palmed her face. Briefly shooting the hallways around them a suspicious look, Desdemona sighed. "Look...if I explain this, you have to promise not to tell your dad I told you, okay? He'd be roaring mad if he knew I'd slipped up this much."
Virgo and Sagittarius exchanged a quick look and a few gestures before nodding resolutely.
Desdemona sighed, looking tired and more adult-like than she usually did, which said something of the seriousness of the conversation to the twins. "The Dark Lord...wanted your father to join the Death Eaters."
"Oh," Tarry squeaked, his head of dark brown hair ducking as the thought penetrated fully.
Virgo was silent, her gray eyes staring at the floor, but her brother could tell she'd gone a few shades paler than normal.
"Your dad decided not to throw in with him," Desdemona explained haltingly.
There was a long silence before she continued. "I think...it made the Dark Lord angry, when he couldn't find your father. Even though your great-grand parents went into hiding, I don't think they were as lucky as your father was. That's probably why...well, you know."
"...so he killed them?" Virgo asked quietly. "Just like that? Even though it was our dad who didn't agree with him, he killed them?"
Desdemona sighed again, her face pinching in worry. "Regulus-your father-was the future of the Black family. When your grandparents, Orion and Walburga got married, the Black family had been split for two generations and a lot of the money was divided up, so their parents-Arcturus and Pollux-decided that they would consolidate all of the Black family assets in their union. I think it helped that your great-grandparents were businessmen at heart, by all accounts. Mother told me how dreadfully boring they found Wizengamot meetings." Here the blonde smiled sadly, wistfully.
"So?" Virgo pressed, "Doesn't that mean he should have gone after that bit-Grandmother Walburga? Didn't she have everything he wanted?"
After a moment of silence, Desdemona nodded. "Yeah. Walburga and Orion had pretty much everything to the family name. I think Pollux and Arcturus liked to manage some of the businesses, but they'd mostly retired by that point. Your father, though, he was the future of the Black family and stood to inherit pretty much everything. I think the Dark Lord wanted him very, very badly."
"That means he killed them to try and find dad," Tarry whispered.
"Probably," Desdemona nodded, looking very weary indeed. "He might have thought Pollux and Arcturus would have known where your father was. After what he did to Cassiopeia...well, they were probably right to try and hide."
"...and no one did anything?" Virgo asked, her voice quivering. "No one...tried to stop him?"
Tarry watched as Desdemona's shoulders sagged and something like intense pain cross her face as she swallowed. "Not enough. There weren't enough people who stood up for it to matter, really, I guess. Virgo, I'm sorry...I shouldn't have told you this. Are you okay? Can I get you something?"
"-why do you do this?"
Tarry blinked, his eyes widening as he saw small damp spots forming on the floor in front of his sister. Opening his mouth to comfort her, Tarry stopped as his sister continued.
"You do this every time. Every time Tarry or I are feeling sad or hurt or something and no one else bothers with us...you treat us like family, you promised dad he can keep a lot of the money, you actually care what we think..." Virgo listed as Desdemona began to look increasingly uncomfortable. "You read us bedtime stories. Dad won't even do that anymore...I-I don't understand. You're even coming with us to see mom for the last-" Virgo shook her head cutting off a sob, then pressed onward, her eyes glistening with tears. "Why do you care?"
Desdemona sighed and, with all the caution of someone approaching a wounded animal, stepped towards Virgo. Finally, with tenderness either twin only rarely saw, 'The Demon' wrapped her arms around the quietly crying Black girl, reaching out at the last instant to grab her brother as well.
"It would be better off if we were never born," Virgo whispered, Tarry wincing as she voiced a thought that both he and his sister had had more than once. "We just-everyone says so. We're a burden to dad and the family. If dad hadn't had to look after us, maybe he could have saved one of his grandparents or something...and he would get all the Black money...he'd be a lot better off..."
"Listen," Desdemona said with an unusual severity, her steel-gray eyes flickering back and forth between them. "Listen to me right now. Neither of you are ever to think or say anything like that ever again or I'll take you straight to your father. You're not a burden, you're two wonderful children who deserve better than those little pissant pureblood brats to hang around with them. You're worth ten-no, a hundred of them, easily, and you should never forget it."
She stepped back from the twins, a hand on Virgo's right side and Tarry's left.
"Now, we're going to head over to Grimmuald Place and take a portkey to visit your mother. She'll want you to be strong, right? No tears." Desdemona's voice was soft as she reached into the omnipresent pouch at her side and pulled a handkerchief out. Wiping their faces down, she attempted to give them her best smile. "Besides, you were going to show me the Italian beaches, right? If you're thinking thoughts like those, it'll rain and we won't be able to go out."
Virgo gave a startled laugh, "That's a load of lies and you know it."
Tarry gave his sister a wary look, "I don't know, last time you got mad there was a big thunderstorm...it might rain if we're sad. Like accidental magic, right Virgo?"
"That's just-" Virgo shook her head, "magic can't change the weather, stupid."
"It's not stupid!" Sagittarius Black cried even as they were pushed along by a much-relieved looking Desdemona Malfoy. "Tell her, Desdemona!"
The youngest Malfoy grinned, "Well, according to Heliographus, a sixth century Byzantine author-"
"-this is why you can't speak proper French, Italian, or German, you know," Virgo groaned. "I swear if your accent goes all weird in front of mom, I'll bury you in sand. All those old books are terrible for trying to talk to actual people."
Desdemona only smiled in reply, her mouth ready with a rejoinder that put the uncomfortable conversation even further from their minds.
In Bad Faith
"Bag of Holding...how did I ever live without you?"
It was an errant though, Regulus was sure, the kind that one only absently skittered across one's mind, but occasionally found its way out of an individual's mouth. Regulus remembered the accidental slips of the tongue well from his school days. Still, these sudden non sequiturs could provide valuable insight into a person's character and thought processes. As the young girl he'd taken to thinking of as his 'niece' hugged her mokeskin pouch to her chest with obvious and almost heart-breaking affection directed towards the inanimate enchanted object, he was sure of only one thing.
Desdemona Malfoy was either the greatest genius he'd ever known...
...or she was completely and irrecoverably mad.
Regulus frowned, idly considering the possibility that she might be both.
Running a hand through his hair, he pondered the girl before him again. Experience, if nothing else, had taught him that wizards and witches did not fit easily into muggle society. His children were rare exceptions, being half-bloods. A pureblood magical attempting to mingle with muggles was about as obvious as their lack of fashion sense. That fact had saved him more than once in the early years running from the Dark Lord.
But here again, Desdemona Malfoy deviated from the norm. As had become her wont the short shopping trip he'd taken her on without her parents' knowledge had been more than slightly surreal. The end result was a small selection of outfits that wouldn't have looked out of place on any child native to the muggle world.
Currently, her small frame was clothed in a deep purple button-up blouse, a black pair of trousers (and wouldn't Narcissa be scandalized by that?), and gray hooded jacket. The only oddities which marked her as being even slightly unusual was the complex braid she customarily wore her hair in and a pair of orange-red tinted vanity glasses she'd picked up in a small shop next to the muggle clothing store. The circular frames were simple, but obviously from a different era. Combined with display, which had looked like something he remembered nearly a decade prior, it was the only trace of the usual eccentricities common to magicals in a muggle environment.
Regulus shook his head, freeing his mind from the distracting thoughts. He had more pertinent business to attend to anyway.
"Towels?" He finally managed in rough Italian, rubbing at his face tiredly. "Why would you possibly think to carry around towels in that pouch?"
Desdemona looked up from where she had handed the Black twins a pair of long beach towels. The rain outside attested to the fact that they were needed at the moment, especially since Regulus couldn't simply wave his wand and dry them all. As the young Malfoy's eyebrows rose in disbelief, Regulus wondered why exactly he had the feeling he'd just said something rather stupid.
"Uncle Regulus," Desdemona sighed before responding in her own oddly accented Italian, which bore traces of Medieval German, French, and Old English. The overall effect gave her a way of pronouncing words that was utterly unique in all his travels, "can you honestly think of a situation in which a good towel would not be useful?"
Regulus opened his mouth, ready to refute the apparently silly question, then paused.
His mouth closed, seemingly of it's own accord as a rebuttal failed to find it's way to his lips.
"Towels cannot possibly be that useful," Regulus replied plainly.
Desdemona's infuriating smile intuited that she knew she'd proved her point well enough. "Maybe not on their own, no, but these are enchanted."
"Enchanted?" Regulus stated blankly in the kind of tone that obviously implied the question of, 'who in their right mind would bother to enchant something so ordinary as a towel?'
Desdemona smiled wider, "They're self-cleaning, self-drying, self-repairing, as well as having durability, flame-freezing, air-purifying magic on them, and they have anti-muggle enchantments on them so they're not likely to be stolen. In addition, the towels themselves are made of two high-count sheets of acromantula spider silk with a layer of dragon belly-hide between the silks. I have six of them; three with warming enchantments on top of all of that, three with cooling enchantments."
As Desdemona began to dry herself off with the ridiculously enchanted magical towels, she shook her head. "Mother refused to purchase 'ordinary' towels for my birthday. She said something about such a gift embarrassing me at my party...we had a bit of an argument over what constituted an appropriate gift and, well, here we are."
Regulus visibly shook himself, running a hand over his face before calmly accepting the monogrammed towel and beginning to dry himself off. Handing the large cloth back to it's owner, he resolved very firmly to act as the preceding conversation had never happened.
Some corner of his mind noticed that he did such often in conjunction with his young cousin-niece.
"...as I was saying," Regulus continued, watching the young Malfoy slip her towel around her neck like some oddly shaped scarf instead of placing it back in her mokeskin bag. "We need to be exceptionally careful regarding magic here in Italy. They have a much harsher view on exposure of our kind to muggles. The Spanish Valentines, especially, don't look kindly on having to oblivate muggles."
"The Spanish?" Desdemona asked, blinking.
Regulus stared at her for a long moment, "I suppose those books of yours don't take everything into account, then. Let's get seated and I'll explain...as much as I know, anyway."
In short order, the adult had ushered the three children into a small corner booth, ensconced between two raucous parties of slightly drunk muggles. Ordering swiftly, Regulus frowned, then slid his wand out and, using the table for cover, worked a particularly nice variant of the silencing charm, and slid his wand back immediately. The magic would allow sound out, though it would be some innocuous conversation instead of their actual words, and block enough incoming sound to make the dinner manageable.
"Uncle Regulus," Desdemona spoke up as they began to eat, "you said something about the Spanish?"
Regulus nodded. "I suppose...let's see if I can explain this properly. I'm going to guess that you've read a generous amount of history on the various European wizarding nations?"
"Up to the Statute of Secrecy," Desdemona nodded, then blushed slightly, "I'm afraid I'm a little out of sorts on 'current events.'"
Regulus' lips twitched. "I suppose current events would be one way to put it, though you should look into the last two centuries of wizarding history at some point. You might find it enlightening. I probably won't be as erudite as many of your books, but...the best place to start would be what you know of wizarding Italy."
Both Sagittarius and Virgo smiled conspiratorially as they watched Desdemona's eyebrows furrow in thought.
"I know that a portion of the country was under the rule of the Catholic Church, the Holy See, and ultimately the Pope during the signing of the Statute of Secrecy. In fact, part of the Statute directly relates to relations between wizard-kind and the ecclesiastic authority of the pope, in which representatives of various magical governments signed an agreement with the papacy whereby the wizarding governments of Europe would disband any forms of magical armed forces save that which was necessary to police themselves. In return, not only would the Catholic Church officially sanction the Statute of Secrecy, but they would begin the phasing out of witchcraft and wizardry persecution." Desdemona's eyes had gone distant as she trailed on, obviously either repeating a passage verbatim from one of her books or paraphrasing the document carefully.
"That...may well be, but it's somewhat outside the point I was trying to make." He took a bite from the rather well-made pasta affair he'd ordered and gave himself a moment to order his thoughts. "You're conflating the Papal States with Italy, dear niece. Italy, as the muggles conceive the country, does not exist. The Papal States still govern half of the Italian peninsula, while Spain control the southern half. It's still illegal to teach, learn, or otherwise practice any of the magical arts in areas controlled by the Pope...what? Why are you looking at me like that?"
The expression on Desdemona' face was something complex and confused. With an obvious effort of will, the young girl forced a question out, "Uncle Regulus, you mean to tell me that the Papal States are still an extant governmental authority in the wizarding world?"
Regulus snorted. "I don't see what's so hard to believe about that. The Pope is still in charge of everything north of Ascoli and Latina. Anyway, the area we are currently in, Sicily, is under the authority of the Wizard-Kings and Witch-Queens of Spain. I actually had to go before the throne and ask for sanctuary from Emperor Phillip Prospero II after I was almost found out in muggle France."
Something about the conversation was inducing a worrying thoughtfulness in the young Desdemona Malfoy, Regulus noted. At some point during the discussion, she'd removed one of her notebooks and was surreptitiously scribbling onto it.
Regulus honestly could not guess at the content of the intricate multilingual code.
Not that he wanted to, mind. He was far happier in ignorance of the girl's thoughts than he believed enlightenment could possibly grant him.
"Philip Prospero," Desdemona muttered idly, "he was one of one of King Philip IV's children, wasn't he?"
"Right," Regulus nodded, taking another long sip of his drink. "Back before the Statute of Secrecy, when muggle monarch had children capable of magic, it was looked on as a bad omen, especially since so many reigning kings and queens had to be on good terms with the Catholics. If memory serves, royal children who performed accidental magic often 'died in infancy' and were whisked away to grow up properly with their own kind...if they were lucky. I got into a discussion regarding the topic with the chap who was in charge of making sure I didn't make a fool out of myself in His Highness' presence."
Regulus dearly hoped he was imagining the slight twitch above his niece's left eye.
"I suppose those children were adopted by pureblood families then?" Desdemona asked, her eyes burning with some unnatural insight that Regulus was loath to consider. Regardless, he answered the question.
"For the most part. When the Statute of Secrecy came around in 1689, though, some of the children of royal lineage who had been adopted by the Ancient and Noble Houses of their respective countries often leveraged their political power into establishing themselves as royalty on the wizarding side of things. Philip Prospero I would have been..." Regulus squinted in thought. History had never been his strong suit, but he'd had to pick up enough extraneous knowledge over the course of his travels that he knew a bit of everything.
"Probably in his thirties or forties," Desdemona interjected, rubbing at her forehead, the beginnings of what was obviously a headache. "I think he was born...sometime in the sixteen fifties?"
"Right," Regulus nodded, not really caring about the specifics of the issue. "Anyway, they called it...'Dividing the Crown' or something like that. That kind of thing flew about as well as a lead quaffle in Britain."
Desdemona shook her head, "No, I can't imagine William of Orange would have liked the idea one bit."
Regulus blinked, "No, no. I just meant that sensible British witches and wizards rightly didn't want some magical royal mucking about in their business. One king or queen, even if they're a muggle, has always been enough for us. I'll say this much for the French, the frogs have at least that bit going for them: no monarchy and a nice, sane Ministry to keep things running."
Desdemona was breathing deeply, now muttering unintelligibly about very odd things. Regulus was able to catch the words, "Louis XIV...have to be insane to ask him that...but, England and Scotland...no, same King...James VI? Personal Union...possible basis for formation of unified British wizarding ministerial government? Wizard's Councils cedes power to Ministry of Magic in 1610...but Ministry establishes governance over whole of Great Britain? Wizards make no sense..."
After another long second wherein both Regulus and his children were beginning to grow concerned, Desdemona's head bobbed back up, a frightfully irritated glare on her face.
"Uncle Regulus, we will be stopping by a muggle bookstore once we are settled here in Italy. I find I am in desperate need of reference material and the books I brought with me are not nearly enough," Desdemona's scowl erased any doubt in Regulus' mind that he could maneuver his way out of making such a trip.
He still had to try, though. "Desdemona, muggle books won't help you understand wizard politics."
Both Tarry and Virgo were snickering quietly in their corner, obviously overjoyed at watching their father have to fend off their cousin's bibliophile tendencies.
"I don't care," Desdemona nearly growled. "I need some nice, sane books to get through this madness or I'm going to strangle someone with my bare hands."
"I'll take you to a wizarding bookstore," Regulus offered, "I know a good one hereabouts and Sophia's father has a few men he can probably spare to escort you. Pendente Vicolo has plenty of shops you can enjoy yourself in while the twins and I visit with their mother. I don't want you going out into the muggle world alone, young lady, Narcissa would have a fit."
Desdemona took a deep breath and exhaled loudly, seeming to come back to herself. "I...we can talk about this later, Uncle. I'm...sorry about that outburst. It was unseemly of me."
Regulus sighed in relief. "Thank you, Desdemona. Although I would like you not to be so excitable in front of Sophia. According to her father's letters, she's very tired these days and doesn't need the stress."
Desdemona wilted slightly, her eyes flickering to Tarry and Virgo, who had gone silent.
"I...understand, Uncle. I apologize again," the young girl replied, then paused. "Uncle Regulus, by the way, you've never mentioned exactly what it was that was afflicting her."
Regulus blinked at the apparent non-sequitur before licking his lips. How to broach this? "It's...a disease the muggle call 'cancer.' Healers sometimes see it in muggleborns, but haven't quite been able to figure out a cure for it. It doesn't seem to respond well to any of the standard potions and...well, they haven't been having a lot of luck with it. I brought in a healer from the French Ministry who's supposed to be close to a breakthrough, but he couldn't manage anything."
Desdemona nodded slowly, "I...have read a little about it in mother's Healer's Journals. I think they recently published a bit about the topic. What...kind does she have?"
Regulus frowned, then reached inside his jacket to retrieve a small set of letters. Taking care to not get food or drink on them, he sorted through the papers before handing one over to the blonde girl, "It's in there...I think it's a weird word starting with an 'L.' Muggle healers have been trying something with her, but it doesn't seem like it's working."
Desdemona spent nearly ten minutes on the letter, finally resorting to having Virgo translate a few of the more muggle expressions and words. Finally, the blonde folded the letter back carefully and handed it to him. There was a puzzling thoughtful expression on her face.
"Uncle Regulus, I think I will take you up on that offer of a shopping trip. I believe I need to acquire a few things..."