Black House of Fara
Fara Island, South Shore
Hidden Hebrides, Scotland
October 17, 1975
Lord Orion Black, the Duke of Ravensmoor, sat in his study and stared out at the clear autumn day, seeing nothing. Instead he over in his mind the conversation he’d had with his wife earlier. His wife, the time traveler, who’d sundered her own soul to change a single moment in time — and saved his life in doing so.
His wife, Ophelia, who was also Ianthe; his son’s stepmother, and goddaughter.
Pity it was too early for a drink.
A Blood War which killed purebloods in equal numbers to muggleborns, including half the ancient Families. Corruption that ran so deep it had killed Britain’s magic. His sons; one who was dead by his majority, the other imprisoned and tortured without even a trial.
Tom Riddle. That smarmy bastard that teachers adored and younger students avoided. Orion had already set an investigation into Riddle in motion weeks ago — Ophelia had given him a strong hint that set him on that path. Now. . . ? Whether the world knew it or not, the bastard was forever more an enemy of the House of Black.
Regulus. Orion closed his eyes at the thought of his baby and the fate that he met in another future. Ophelia had read his mood and extracted his sons from the house for the day, borrowing them to help pack up her home — or rather, run around in the garden while the elves packed. If Orion had to lay eyes on his children now, he’d either weep or rage and frighten them. Better they be away now.
Sirius: brave, fierce Sirius, made bitter and angry under Walburga’s ‘care’; who ran away from his own legacy to escape her taint. Alphard; dead under mysterious circumstances just before Sirius’ majority, who might have helped him claim the title from Cygnus’ usurpation. His father, dead from the strain of the Family Magic he was forced to reclaim. His cousins, nieces and nephews — dead, mad, or sacrificed on the altar of blood purity.
The Wizards Council decimated and its’ youngest, most progressive Lord in Azkaban illegally; the decline of Hogwarts under the administration of Dumbledore, the interference of the Ministry, the losses of a war, and, presumably, embezzlement by the Board. The Ministry run amok with power; only a single prison for all offenses, guarded by Dementors.
Orion pressed his fingers to his eyes, squeezing the bridge of his nose to stave off both headache and tears. If Ophelia could merge two sets of memories — two souls — while escaping a burning building, then he could order his thoughts, control his emotions, and act.
Few might ever know, but the House of Black was at war; when it came to battle, they did not lose.
Orion settled in with a notebook — spelled for privacy and blood-locked — and a quill and began to plot.
He needed a new will, with strict clauses on guardianship, regency and proxies for his sons; though he had rewritten his will last year, no one would think it odd for him to do so again after remarrying. A new legal firm, or at least a second, private one, to ensure his wishes could not be undermined by other members of his family and that the family firm was kept on the straight and narrow. His cousin, Marius, perhaps; he’d already entrusted him with the Ministry investigation.
Every detail of Tom Riddle, from conception to the present, was to be learned; the investigation of the Ministry must also be a priority. A seat on the Board of Governors — if not now, then when vacancies came up in the fall out of the upcoming arrests for embezzlement. He would make Ophelia his proxy there, if she agreed; apparently she’d run straight into every problem Hogwarts was capable of producing and was, therefore, aware of the school’s failings.
Several members of his family needed a kick in the arse — for the gods’ sake, being branded as followers? Blacks led and bowed to no one. So what if Voldemort was ‘Slytherin’s Heir’? Salazar Slytherin had been a noble-born wizard of a minor pureblood line; a family line that had made no impact on history outside of producing Salazar. Was the man a powerful mage and a Founder of the oldest school in Europe? Yes. Was he the High King of Britain? No. That his kin would help any but the true king of Albion rise to rule the isles wasn’t just madness: it was treason.
Dumbledore’s power needed to be limited before it grew to great. He was already Chief Warlock, a role Orion had not blocked him from reaching because it kept the man firmly in view of the entire Wizengamot and demanded a certain neutrality that limited the man’s political maneuvering. However, he could not be permitted to become the face of Britain with the ICW, or to be the Minister’s primary advisor. Fortunately, since Orion had no intention of letting Voldemort rise, Dumbledore’s fame as the man he feared would never turn the headmaster into the new coming of Merlin that he’d become in the future.
Finally, his sons needed every ward and protective spell he could stick to them, and his wife would need further reassurance the her past changed nothing about his feelings or their marriage. Orion would make a concerted effort to show Ophelia that he had no regrets.
A villa in Greece — sun, sand, and days spent half naked — was looking better and better. Decisively, he added a note to have his business manager find a property in Greece, not for the Black estates, but for his small family. He would see that it was purchased in his wife’s name.
Orion wrote steadily for twenty minutes before Izzy, his head elf, popped into the study. He closed the leather-bound journal, studying Izzy’s body language. She shifted from foot to foot, wringing her hands, obviously reluctant to interrupt him. Orion wondered how his elves would be affected by sharing a household with Ophelia’s servants. Each of her three elves were opinionated and forthright, had individual personalities, and was bossy to a fault. Orion rather hoped Izzy, who had been with him since he left Hogwarts, would learn a little confidence from Tully and his siblings.
The little elf tugged one ear. “Master Orion is being busy and not to be disturbed, but nasty Cygnus is coming here and not going away. Izzy is telling him Master is not seeing anyone but he is shouting and cursing and saying bad, nasty things about Master’s new Lady.” Izzy scowled faintly, which was surprising to Orion — and assured him his elf would adapt to the new circumstances quite well. “We is telling him to come again, but he is refusing and he is bad and nasty and rude but still being a Black.”
Elves raised in the service of a family, or sworn to a House instead of an individual, often had trouble refusing orders or requests from other members of the family unless explicitly ordered to by their masters. Orion sighed, knowing full well Cygnus — presumably the elder, and Walburga’s grandfather, not her brother — would not leave until he got his way. But. . . “How does he know about Ophelia?”
“Bad Black is shouting about trees and tapestries and withered branches and other mean, stupid things.”
The damned Family Tree and it’s updating tapestries. Orion had completely forgotten about them. Cygnus, obsessed as he was with their lineage, had one of the tapestries anchored magically to the original at Ravensmoor. Since he had married Ophelia in a ritual, rather than merely in the legal sense, he had affected the family magic and, therefore, the tree.
So much for a little time to themselves before he formally presented his wife to the family. If Magic was kind to him, his mother hadn’t seen yet. But he wouldn’t hold his breath.
“Very well, Izzy, send him up.”
She looked reluctant. “Master Orion is sure?”
“I’m sure he won’t leave if you don’t.”
In the three minutes — Izzy must have stalled — it took Cygnus to arrive, Orion set his stage. He leaned casually against his desk in his shirt sleeves, apparently unconcerned with appearances or formalities. His wand was out on the desk, both visible and accessible, while his new wedding band was carelessly on display.
The wide mithril band on his left hand wasn’t typical of wixen tradition, or part of magical wedding rituals though rings denoting marriage had trickled into British magical society over the last decades. It pleased him to wear his wife’s claim openly — and justified the elegant opal band he’d given her in return. The sight would make Cygnus fume.
His wife would have laughed and called him dramatic, which proved that Ophelia was more Gryffindor than Slytherin. Orion wasn’t dramatic — he was manipulative.
“Great Uncle Cygnus,” Orion acknowledged the older wizard when he stormed in, flinging the door against the wall. Nearly a hundred, Cygnus’ black hair was richly silvered, and he wasn’t terribly out of shape, though he did little to stay healthy. He would be a handsome elder if not for the deep lines of dissatisfaction carved into his face, the permanently curled lip, and the rage.
He growled at Orion’s calm greeting — which deliberately referenced their blood ties, not the man’s status as a former in-law. “Orion.”
“What could have brought you all the way to the Hebrides to upset my house elves, uncle? Don’t you have your own to torment?”
“How dare you.”
Orion furrowed his brow in puzzlement. “I’ve seen you harass your elves, Cygnus. It’s hardly daring to comment on it.”
“Bugger the house elves!” the old wizard snarled; the air chilled slightly with his rising temper.
Really, the man made it too easy. “As long as it’s consensual, you may do so if you wish.”
“What are you talking about, boy?”
“Buggering house elves — you were, in any case.”
He looked confused for a moment, then disgusted. “How deep in depravity can you sink, Orion?”
“You were the one who brought sodomy into the conversation, Cygnus.” Crossing his arms, he spoke in a tone designed to infuriate. “Why are you here, uncle?”
“Where’s your lightskirt?” Cygnus snarled. “That trollop who dares to sully our House? Who you dare to try to present as the Duchess of Ravensmoor?”
“Watch your tongue, old man,” Orion’s tone was soft and dangerous. “We aren’t half so close that I won’t call you out for speaking ill of the woman I chose as my wife.”
“Walburga is your wife!”
“No, she was my wife — against my will. Now, she is a convict and a blood traitor.”
Cygnus reared back as if struck. “My granddaughter is no muggle lover!”
Orion sighed. “A blood traitor is one who breaks oaths to or betrays their family, Cygnus. Such as attempting to murder the lord and heir of their House.” He was going to find out who had started the new trend of using ‘blood traitor’ to describe anyone who disagreed with the hardline purist agenda — and curse them deaf and blind.
“You put another in my granddaughter’s place!”
“Walburga’s only place is the cell she resides in.”
Cygnus looked nearly apoplectic, spluttering with fury. “You’ve always wanted to be rid of her! As if she wasn’t good enough for you — my granddaughter, with her impeccably pure blood. You’ve never wanted my line to inherit what should have always been mine!”
“For the gods’ sake; Cygnus, you’re the third-born son — the duchy was never yours,” he snapped coldly. “And yes, I wanted out of that thrice-damned contract; anyone bound against their will tries to escape their circumstances. Sirius will inherit one day; be contented with that.”
“If you were a proper Black —”
That hated phrase, wielded like a lash against his son all his life, sparked Orion’s fury. The air went cold with his black rage. “I am Ravensmoor; the Black of the House of Black! I am the living definition of a proper Black!”
His elder stepped back, some of the furious colour fading from his face. “Your father and grandfather were weak, boy, and so is your whole bloodline.”
“You bleeding fool, we’re all the same bloodline! You and my grandfather were brothers — his line is yours.” Exhausted by the mad stubbornness and illogic that Cygnus had spouted for years — and fostered in his descendents — Orion pointed his wand at the other wizard. “If all you have to say is the same bullshite you’ve espoused for decades, you can leave. I will not have you in my home, abusing my wife and sons. Not to my face or, gods forbid, theirs. Until you gain sense — or die, which is more likely — you are not welcome in any house I occupy. If you can refrain from being an irrational lunatic, you may still be welcome at family events. But don’t hold your breath,” he finished coldly.
“We’ve been over that already — I dare a great deal. Be grateful, old man,” Orion said softly. “I could call you out for a single one of the insults you leveled at my wife today. Were you anyone but kin, we would already be making arrangements.” And he was certainly tempted.
The old bastard’s eyes grew calm and calculating — a direct contrast to the last minutes. “I will not allow you to ruin our house with your weakness or a mongrel bloodline.”
Orion deflected the first spell, and the second. Cygnus screamed when a whip of fire wrapped around his arm, igniting both his sleeve and wand. He collapsed on the carpet, cradling his burnt flesh and panting.
“That’s another blood traitor of your line, Cygnus,” Orion stated flatly. “Perhaps it’s your bloodline that’s weak.”
“What the curses is going on here?”
His father, mother, and cousin were standing in the doorway. Lord and Lady Black looked furious; Alphard had his wand in hand.
“A dispute over what constitutes a true Black,” Orion answered his father calmly. “Needless to say, Cygnus lost.”
“Not your best look, Grandfather,” Alphard said bluntly. “Nor your cleverest move, drawing wood on Orion.”
“Hold your tongue, boy,” Cygnus hissed.
“Not on a bet.” His cousin wandered closer, wand still out. “I see you received an unexpected family visit as well, Orion. Fortunately, mine was somewhat more pleasant.”
“‘Somewhat’?” Lady Melania Black demanded tartly, still glaring at the wounded wizard on the floor.
“While you are far lovelier and — though twice as dangerous — less murderous than old Cygnus here, my lady, an interrogation before luncheon is not terribly pleasant.”
Orion sighed. “Mother.”
“Don’t ‘mother’ me, Orion Arcturus. You and I will have a conversation.”
“Should have considered the family tree, old chap,” Alphard murmured. “Sloppy, very sloppy.”
Arcturus stood over Cygnus. “You bloody bastard.”
The elder Black snarled despite his obvious pain. “If you weren’t so weak —”
“I wouldn’t have raised a man who could get the better of you?” He snorted. “Find a new line, Uncle, you’ve worn that one thin.” He looked to Orion. “Aurors, or healer?”
A healer to treat Cygnus’ wounds before he was banished, or aurors to arrest him.
“Aurors — they’ll see him healthy before they lock him up. Perhaps they’ll give him the cell next to Walburga’s.”
“You’ll be the ruin of the House of Black.”
“The House of Black has endured far worse than me — regardless of your definition of ‘worse’,” Orion snapped, more than fed up with his kin’s ranting. “Izzy.”
The elf popped in, took one look at the tableau, and sighed. “I is telling Master he is a bad, nasty Black.”
Alphard laughed. “Your wife’s attitude is contagious.”
“I have cousins enough that I can spare the loss of one, Alphard.” Though he agreed. “Izzy, please go to the Ministry and tell the Aurors I have a present for them. Moody, if he’s available. Tell them to have a healer ready; he’s a little singed.”
“Izzy fetches Aurors to take out nasty trash.” She popped away.
“You’re doomed, old man,” his cousin stated cheerfully. “Don’t ever cross that woman — your whole household will side with her, including your sons.”
“I’m about to adopt Ophelia’s method of dealing with you, Alphard.”
“Which is?” his mother asked curiously.
“A wandless silencing spell,” Alphard chuckled. “I may adopt her method myself. At least when it comes to my brother and sister-in-law.”
“I like her already.” Arcturus smirked. “Why listen to people talk when you can —”
Alphard yanked the older Lord Black from the path of of Cygnus’ blade. “Knife!”
Furious, Orion leapt forward, lashing out with his wand. The old bastard must have snapped completely — though the last half-hour was evidence enough of that — because he kept moving despite the vicious cutting curse that crossed his torso. Orion caught the downward slash of the knife with his left arm, deflecting and dispersing the strike, then twisting his wrist to seize the knife and the hand that held it. He heard something break in Cygnus’ hand even as he hit the bastard with another cutting curse, followed by a banishing charm that sent him thudding into the nearby bookshelf.
“Not bad, Black,” Alastor Moody rumbled from the doorway. “Haven’t lost your touch, or your nasty streak.”
“Still sore about losing that last duel, Moody?” he asked, glaring at Cygnus. “I have another relation for you to lock up.”
“Who needs enemies when you have kin? Scrimgeour, bind and search him.”
Cygnus — panting, bleeding and burned — bared his teeth and hissed, “Toujours pur.” Orion and Moody’s stunning spells struck him just as he vanished in a swirl of Portkey magic.
“Son of a banshee!” The Head Auror snapped. “Tough old bastard.”
Orion growled, then inhaled sharply. Cygnus was currently unconscious and, without aid, would likely bleed out or die of shock. Whether there was anyone at the other end of the Portkey was the question.
“Moody, I’ll give you permission to search the house and grounds of Lord Cygnus Black.”
Scrimgeour eyed Orion. “And if we find anything Dark in nature?”
“If Moody finds anything Dark in the course of his search for an attempted murderer,” he said coldly, “he can confiscate it. Unless, of course, it is entailed to the House of Black — in which case, it would be exempt from confiscation and should be returned to me, as per the property laws members of your family voted for and have used to their advantage. As you well know.”
“Surely an Auror with aspirations of advancement has some understanding of the law,” Melania drawled sweetly.
As the man flushed under the dual reprimand, Moody rolled his eyes and snapped out, “Scrimgeour, go back to the ministry and write up the warrant request for Cygnus Black — make sure to use his full name and birth date! There’s at least one other Black with the same name. And send Bones and Smith to meet me.” He promptly ignored the other auror. “What if he’s hiding on another property — you lot have them all over the damned world.”
“And each of them has at least one elf. I’ll order all the family elves to turn him in if they find him. That will include the ones belong to any of the family members who might actually help that old bastard.” Orion flexed his left hand — the scratch he’d received stung and burned, but seemed minor. “Father, Alphard, I need you to —”
He glanced over at his cousin, bent over the discarded knife in the corner. “Yes, Alphard?”
The younger man rose, pale, and extended his hand. “This is Lord Centauri’s pugio.”
In the sunlight, the curved Roman blade gleamed darkly. Nearly ten inches long and bare of ornamentation, the wickedly sharp dagger was a relic of the House of Black and had long dwelled in one of the family vaults. It wasn’t named for the man who carried it.
Centauri was the wizard who had died from it’s cursed edge.
Orion touched his bloodied wrist, met his cousin’s shocked gaze, and swallowed.
Through the buzzing in his ears he heard his father send his mother to Floo the healer. Hands pressed him back into a chair.
“Orion, do you know what the curse is?”
“No one does,” he managed to answer Moody. “The blade wasn’t simply spelled; it was cursed during the forging. The process fixed and altered whatever spell was laid on it, and the magic was tempered along with the steel. Whatever the curse was originally, it’s unique now.” He flexed his hand again. . . and realized his fingertips were going numb. “Alphard — how long?”
“Centauri died in hours, but he was stabbed and not just nicked.” His cousin squeezed his shoulder with a trembling hand. “Orion —”
“Give the blade to Alastor so he can take it to Gringotts — they have the best cursebreakers. I need you to retrieve Marius.”
“Uncle Marius? Why?”
“He’s a solicitor.” His father and cousin flinched. “Father, will you give orders to the house elves about Cygnus? And request an audit of the vaults — Merlin only knows what else that arse ‘borrowed’ from one of them.”
“I’m not dead yet; let’s try for a little optimism.”
“You’re the one planning a last will and testament,” Arcturus huffed.
“Pragmatism and pessimism are two different things.”
Moody snorted. “Not always. I’ll take this blasted thing and start the search. I’ll be back in three hours — don’t die, Black, I still need your statement.”
Since that was nearly sentiment, coming from his old friend and dueling rival, Orion took it to heart. “Alphard, get Marius. Then. . .” he trailed off.
“Then I need you to get Ophelia and the boys.” Who should be first, but he needed a few minutes to prepare for facing that. They would be murderous and tearful in turns.
“Bleeding Morgana — I think I’d rather have been stabbed myself,” the younger wix muttered. “If the curse doesn’t kill you, she well might.”
“If I leave her a widow within days of wedding her?” Orion smiled. “She’s going to learn necromancy for just that reason.”
Ophelia Apparated into the front hall of Orion’s house, wand in hand. It had been less than fifteen minutes since she’d first felt a sense of unease; half that time since she’d felt her magic begin to stir restlessly.
Ianthe Potter had learned not to ignore such feelings in her eleventh year. The first Ophelia had ignored her instinct for danger only once — and woken to a burning home.
It had taken her a moment to realize that it wasn’t her own magical core that was reacting, but the newly formed bond with Orion. Either his own magic or the Family Magic he carried the weight of was acting up. There weren’t many reasons for the magic of an adult wix to act up; usually illness or extreme emotion. Or serious danger.
Two elves popped into the hall; Poppy, the boys’ nanny elf, and Izzy. They both looked distressed.
“Oh, Lady!” Izzy wailed. “Nasty Cygnus is coming and fighting with my Master Orion, and trying to hurt Lord Arcturus! And he is hurting Master Orion — he is being cursed by a knife with bad magics!”
“The Blacks is being very frightened, Lady,” Poppy whispered, twisting her hem. “The healers is come and Master. . . Master is being worried.
She holstered her wand with trembling fingers. Cursed. “Apparently, I can’t leave that man alone without supervision,” she said lightly. “Poppy, the boys are with my elves under wards. Go to them — and don’t let them know anything is wrong,” Ophelia added sternly.
The little elf sniffed once, dabbed at her huge eyes, then straightened her tea towel and her tuff of silver hair. “I is a good nanny; the little masters is not knowing.”
When she vanished, Izzy looked up at Ophelia hopefully. As she was very familiar with house elves, she gave her husband’s elf a cheerful order. “Izzy, would you make sure there’s food and tea for Orion and anyone else who’s here? And have Fenn do a check the house and wards?”
“Izzy is doing. Master is in the study with healers and master’s parents and cousin Alphard.”
“Fantastic,” Ophelia muttered when she was alone. “Exactly how I wanted to meet the inlaws.”
She only had to pause once to get control of herself on the way upstairs.
“—Enough.” Her husband’s voice cut through several muted ones. “Healer Drake, please get out of the way.”
“Lord Ravensmoor, I am the private healer to the noble House of Black. Not this —”
“Careful, Drake, else I take offense. His Grace has refused your services — such as it is.”
“Why are you even here, Vervain? Shouldn’t you be tending the wretched poor at St. Mungo’s?”
Healer Vervain, the head of St Mungo’s, and the one who had treated Orion and Sirius when they were poisoned by Walburga. Drake was likely the private healer that the Blacks used.
“As I mentioned before, Drake, His Grace is still wearing the Healer’s Alert ward I issued him last November. His injury triggered the ward. Now, as I am the one who has most recently had His Grace under my care —”
“He is my client!”
“He is my patient — and I haven’t had my privileges at St Mungo’s revoked for life! You bleeding quack.”
“Lord Arcturus, surely you wish for the more familiar and. . . discerning healer for your son?”
“If by discerning you mean willing to let people die because you put your prejudices before your healer’s oath! Ah, I see you haven’t informed His Grace or Lord and Lady Black that you nearly lost your license when you neglected to tell patients about treatment options created by people with less than pure blood status. I could have sworn that full disclosure was a requirement of your ability to continue practicing. I’ll see your licence revoked for this, Drake.”
Having heard enough, Ophelia stalked into the study and snapped, “Which one of you is Drake?”
Of the two men in healer’s robes, the younger one turned to her. He was pale, tall and lanky and his long face wore an imploring look that swiftly transformed into a pompous sneer. “Healer Manfred Drake. Who wants to know?”
“You should enjoy the title of Healer while you can, since it sounds like you’re going to lose it. If you point your wand wand at my husband, I’ll hex it in a knot — both your wands. Get out, or get out of the way.”
He went a little paler. “Your Grace, please. I am entrusted with the care of your noble House —”
“I don’t trust a bigot to tie their shoes, with or without magic.” She ignored him and his offended spluttering completely in favour of the second healer. He was older, sliding from middle-aged to elderly. She judged him well past a hundred, sharp-eyed and stern-faced. “Well?”
“As I am an actual healer, not a bigot, and very capable of tying my own shoes — the diagnostic spells need another moment.” A steel grey eyebrow rose. “If that is agreeable, Your Grace?”
“What, you can’t make time run faster?”
“Youth, always in a hurry. When you reach my age, you will wish that time moved slower, if not backwards. I must remove my so-called colleague, and explain the need for anyone he’s treated to be examined by a proper healer to Lord and Lady Black; I’ll return in a few minutes.” And then he left, taking the rest of the room with him, and giving her privacy with her husband.
Ophelia finally let herself look at him, and drew a shaky breath. Orion’s normal healthy complexion already looked wane; his lips were pale and bloodless.
“Damn you, Orion Black,” she whispered, then leapt forward when he tried to rise. “Stay put! Idiot man!” She pushed him back down the few inches he’d risen.
Orion caught one of her hands in his — the one without a bandaged wrist — and dragged her into his lap. “Lia. I’m sorry.”
She tried to rise once, before collapsing against his chest. “Damn you,” she whispered damply. “Damn you.” A hand stroked over her hair. “You went and made me love you, then tricked me into marrying you —”
“Asking in front of your sons was dirty pool,” she grumbled. “And now. . . and you keep making me cry,” she huffed, thinking of his proposal. “You’re lucky I haven’t hexed you.”
“Very lucky,” he agreed, kissing her temple.
“You can’t. . . Orion, please. . . I can’t. . .” She hid the few tears she couldn’t stop against her robe. “Not again.”
You can’t leave me. Orion, please don’t die. I can’t lose anyone else.
Her godfather’s death — the only parent she’d ever known — had driven Ianthe to ritual suicide. That grief had been doubled by her adventure in time travel as Ophelia’s own loss had been barely a month past. It had taken her years to recover from that dual loss, to rebuild herself — both Ianthe and Ophelia — and her defenses.
Defenses that Orion and his children had slid right past, without any warning. She couldn’t endure another devastation like that — not again. Physical pain was simple; her life and childhood had seen to that. Emotional loss? Ophelia would rather a fatal wound to her body than her heart.
“I’m sorry, love,” her husband murmured in her hair. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’ll make you sorry,” she promised fiercely. “If you go and die on me, Orion Black, I’ll make you wish fondly for the suffering of the muggles Hell.”
“Going to take up necromancy, lovely?”
“It would serve you right if I did!” She willed away the remaining tears. “Tell me what happened.”
He did, and any inclination to weep evaporated in the heat of her temper.
“You mean to tell me,” Ophelia fumed, pacing in front of her husband’s chair, “that someone stabbed one of the previous dukes of Ravensmoor —”
“Actually, Centauri died in 1278; we didn’t ascend to a duchy until 1352,” Orion interrupted. “Though he was Lord Black of Ravensmoor and a baron.”
“ —stabbed a Head of the House of Black with a cursed dagger, which killed him —”
“The curse, not the wound.”
“ —and the acceptable response in your family is to take a lethally cursed blade used to murder one of your kinsmen — and unidentified curse with no known cure or counter — and stick the damned thing in a vault so that someone can use it again?” She glared at her husband — who looked entirely too amused, considering the circumstances. “That’s a sensible action?”
“It was in a Black family vault; only members of our House may enter,” Lord Arcturus spoke from the doorway.
She huffed. “Go on and tell me that this is the first time one member of your House has tried to kill another out of greed, jealousy, revenge, or sheer viciousness.” The elder Lord Black’s mouth snapped shut and he cleared his throat. “Exactly.”
“Bloody hell, it’s not even the first time in the last year,” Alphard drawled. “Perhaps we take our hoarding of interesting and powerful items a little too far at times.”
“Perhaps?” Ophelia turned a glare on the healer examining the parchment containing his diagnostic results. “Well?”
“I’ve been glared at by witches far older and meaner that you, child. Return to scolding your husband while I examine this.”
“You’re my least favorite healer,” Orion muttered. “Alphard?”
“Marius will be along in fifteen minutes; I opened the Floo for him.”
“Marius?” The name was familiar to her; likely one of Orion’s legion of cousins.
“Alphard’s uncle. Marius was disowned by Cygnus —”
“The elder Cygnus, henceforth known as ‘that scheming, murderous blood traitor’,” Alphard chimed in.
“ — for being a squib —”
“Technically he’s a hedgewizard.”
Orion sighed dramatically at Alphard, amusing everyone with the byplay. Ophelia could just imagine what the two of them had been like as boys. “Granted, Marius has magic, though it’s too limited to require a wand. Plenty of wix, including Cygnus —”
“That scheming, murderous blood —”
“Thank you, Alphard.” Lady Melania hid a smile and Lord Arcturus chuckled. “Plenty don’t recognize the distinction between a hedgewix and a squib; the lack of wand is all that matters.”
“Stupid. There have been some very famous hedgewix. They tend to have interesting magical gifts and skills, and with control and study are able to use wandless magic more easily than some mage-level wixen.”
Orion acknowledged her statement. “Exactly. Marius retreated to the muggle world and is a very successful solicitor.”
“You’d better not need a damned will, Orion!”
“Perhaps not,” Healer Vervain interrupted before Ophelia could build up a head of steam.
“You’ve found something?” Her in-laws demanded simultaneously. Orion caught one of Ophelia’s trembling hands and squeezed.
“Yes.” He drew his wand and cast another, more localized, diagnostic. A cloud of magic formed above Orion’s injured arm, indecipherable to the rest of the room. Vervain prodded it with his wand, lighting up tangled threads in multiple colours. “The curse is attacking the nerves, flesh, and bone in a systematic manner, moving from the site of the injury towards the heart. Untreated and barring a rapid increase in spread, it will prove fatal in 24 to 36 hours.”
“That doesn’t sound like good news,” Arcturus snapped.
“All information is useful, Lord Black; you cannot heal what you do not know. Now, while I do not recognize this curse, the damage it causes is, in itself, treatable. Should we disperse the magic causing it, His Grace will not be crippled.” He poked Orion’s flexing fingers. “The question becomes the curse — if we treat the damage, will the magic causing it react, and if so, how? Will it fight off the healing spells? Continue unabated? Will it feed on the healing spells and spread faster? Obviously, I would not wish to use His Grace as a test subject without answers to these questions.”
“You want to use the dagger on a living subject,” Ophelia realized. “Like muggle scientists and lab mice.”
“Indeed — though healers use animals with magic, rather than simple mice or rats or whatnot.”
“Wait, magical healers use muggle methods?” Alphard asked. “Why didn’t I know that?”
The healer snorted. “Because if that kind of thing got around, people would have to accept muggle contributions to magic — or worse, would try to stop us, which would lead to deaths.”
“The dagger is at Gringotts,” Orion told him. “I can write them to give you permission to access it — the curse breakers can surely spare it briefly.”
“I’ll write the bank, son. You stay there,” the elder Lord Black stated firmly.
“Oh, look, commonsense from wizards,” Ophelia managed a cheerful tone. “Listen to your father, idiot.” Orion gave her a dry look and stroked his thumb over her knuckles.
“Whatever your method, will you have results inside 24 hours?” Lady Melania’s lips were pinched in a pale face. She looked as scared as Ophelia felt.
“And here is where we come to the good news.” Vervain unrolled the diagnostic parchment, revealing foot after foot of dense lines and diagrams, symbols and script. The class of spells that produced such results were slower and more invasive than the quick diagnostics most people were familiar with, nor were the results interactive. However, they produced extremely detailed information about the patient’s condition.
The healer pointed to a series of diagrams that vaguely reminded Ophelia of arithmancy calculations. “This shows that, while the curse has a tremendous effect on the body, it has no effect on the victim’s magic.”
“Truely?” That was unusual in curses and dark magic.
“Indeed; neither His Grace’s core or magical channels are affected. This not only means that his magic is available to try and heal the damage — which may well push his time past the 36 hour mark — but it leaves us an option should a solution not be found quickly.” He cast another diagnostic, frowned, and extracted a vial from his belt pouch. “Pain potion, Your Grace.”
“Wait, are you in pain?” Ophelia demanded. “How much? Orion —”
“An ache, only, lovely; there’s more numbness than anything.” He took the potion, then flexed his hand. “I can’t feel my fingers at this point.”
“What option?” She asked Vervain quietly.
“Draught of Living Death.” He ignored their sharp inhales. “The Draught essentially pauses the body in the exact state it is in when dosed. The magic of the recipient, however, remains active though far more passive than normal.”
“So, because Orion’s magic is unaffected, the Draught would prevent the curse from progressing.”
“Precisely. When the magic is affected, such an attempt might slow it, but the curse can still attack and feed on the magical core.”
“You want to dose me.”
“Not right this moment,” Vervain responded to Orion’s flat statement. “Though I would like to have an apprentice bring a dose immediately, in case the curse’s progression advances rapidly or appears to be moving into your magic. However,” he continued, “if their is not progress on identifying the curse or treatment in, say, 12 hours? Yes, I would like to administer the Draught.”
Orion pressed his forehead against their joined hands; gently, Ophelia combed her fingers through his hair. After a moment, he raised his head and looked at her. “What do you think, Lia?”
“I think an option that takes some of your control is better than dying. I also think I’ve already promised to make you suffer the torments of the damned if you die.”
“In other words, take the potion.”
“Well, I’d probably add ‘you idiot’ to that, but essentially.”
Behind her, someone snorted.
Her husband kissed her wrist. “Alright, Healer Vervain.”
“If I might use your Floo to contact St. Mungo’s? I need several things, and I would prefer not the have you Apparate or Floo, Your Grace.”
“Izzy.” The elf popped in, levitating a tea tray.
“Izzy is hearing, Master Orion. You is having tea and food and Izzy is showing the healer to the Floo.”
“At Haven House behind the wards.” At Orion’s raised brow, she huffed. “My magic felt. . . odd. I raised the wards and came here.”
“It’s early for a marriage bond to react so strongly.” Lady Melania — who was, gods help her, her mother-in-law — said, pouring tea.
“We wed in ritual, Mother, and Ophelia is a full mage. I’m not surprised by the bond or her sensitivity to it.”
“A mage already?” Lord Arcturus looked up from where he was writing to Gringotts. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-three, Lord Arcturus.” Alphard coughed something that sounded like ‘cradle robber’, and then grinned at the dual glare from Ophelia and Orion. Lady Melania’s glare, however, made him duck slightly.
“Arcturus, child.” He ignored the byplay between his wife and cousin. “Your magic hasn’t even finished maturing, and you have a mage’s resources?” She nodded, shifting slightly under his assessing gaze and gripping Orion’s hand more firmly.
A wix grew into their magic rapidly during adolescence, the magical core reflecting the physical body, and saw a final rapid expansion at seventeen. That was also when many magical gifts stabilized. However, the core continued to grow at a slow, stable pace until thirty-five while also ‘maturing’; growing richer and more robust, like a good wine. Most mages and archmages achieved that status around the end of their maturation; Phee had another decade in hers.
She doubted that, very much. After all, Ianthe had been a mage at seventeen — despite the damage Voldemort, the Dursleys, and even the basilisk had done to her. The original Ophelia had been no slouch, either, and her little adventure in soul merging had triggered a rapid growth in her core. With some luck and a lack of serious injuries or illness, she may well reach archmage status by thirty-five.
“Two of my apprentices are on their way,” the healer announced as he returned. “Your grace, I’d like to have you resting in bed —”
“I’m not an invalid.”
“— but it seems unlikely as of yet,” he continued despite Orion’s grumble. “But I must insist on changing into less formal attire; it will be one less encumbrance should we need to administer more drastic measures.”
“Nor am I ill, Vervain.”
“Technically, you are. The curse is acting like a rapidly progressing illness.”
She inhaled sharply. Illness; damage to the physical body.
Whatever the curse was, it acted like a disease.
They needed a cure.
“I heard you the first time, Orion.” She leaned down and kissed him firmly. “Send Alphard to retrieve the boys; you’ll have to call Tully to get him past the wards.” He opened his mouth. “Listen to the healer, for Annwn’s sake, and so not get in any fights with murderous relations.”
“What about non-relatives?”
“Them either, funny man. Do not, under any circumstances, die before I get back.”
“Back from where?”
She cupped his pale cheek, kissed him again, and then headed for the door — and the Apparition spot in the front hall. “I need to see a man about a potion.”
“Shall I offer felicitation, Your Grace, or sympathy in regards to your recent marriage?”
Orion glared at the amused healer, then huffed when Alphard laughed. “Both, I think.” His mother pushed a cup of tea in his hand. “What about you, Mother; what do you think?”
“I think you deserve what you get.” Despite her tart tone, she stroked his hair gently. “Though I am glad she seems more than a pretty girl. A temper, a strong will and a steady wand are just as useful in life.”
“As you have cause to know.”
Orion smiled at his cousin’s remark, and reflected that Ophelia had a stronger will than any of them would ever know.
She knocked loudly on the door, painted a bold and cheerful blue. Unable to hold back all of the panic crawling up her spine, she knocked again. And again.
The solid wood swung open under her knuckles to reveal a woman of indeterminable age. Taunt skin and fine creases, a mysterious smile and ageless eyes; the witch might have been anywhere between from 35 to 90.
A smile bloomed on her face, then immediately became a worried frown. “Little one, what is the matter?” Her French was neither Parisian nor rustic, but somewhere in between.
Ophelia slid effortlessly into the same language. “Aunt Nella, please, is he in?” Her face crumpled. “Please, I need Uncle Nick.”
Strong, long-fingered hands drew her inside. “Nicolas! Come out here, our little fairy needs you!” She turned from shouting down the hall at her husband and cupped Ophelia’s face. “There, now, he’ll be but one moment. Tell me what is wrong, my little one.”
Perenelle Flamel listened closely, and wiped away Ophelia’s tears.
Orion Black, Ophelia Manus Black, Cygnus Black the Elder