With a shadowy past and a bleak future on
the horizon, the Black family lived a life that was cursed. They were cursed,
yes, whether with magic or just with tangled strings of fate, I do not know.
But it consumed their very souls... the darkness did, till nothing was left but
an empty mockery of life.
They weren't completely dead though, not yet completely woebegone. Their life was not yet as wretched as the life of those that had completely succumbed to the darkness. A painfully human superficiality had set itself deep within their every movement, action and thought. It was perhaps this that allowed a few of them to survive later on. The unyielding pride and arrogance that refused to let them become the filth that another old family, descended from Salazar Slytherin himself, had.
The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black they called themselves. With a lack of humility transparent to the point of annoyance and just as prominent in its people as it was in the name. Considering their history a relic and the purity of their blood sacred, they thought themselves not only noble but akin to royalty.
That isn't to say, however, that power was just an illusion for them. Oh, no, the power ran in their blood as thickly as magic did. Their easy air of command and casual elegance were quick to set even those distantly related to the family apart from those around them. Their occasional cross-breeding habits and incestuous inclinations hadn't affected their magic as much as it had other pure-blood wizarding families. They still consisted of powerful and power-hungry witches and wizards... with the only side-effect to their tendencies being a growing insanity. Yet even the rumours of madness weren't enough to keep priers away. They were forever worshipped by the less powerful, fawned over by those wanting to be a part of the elite.
Then how, the question goes, does a family this powerful fall? Perhaps, in the due course of this story, this question will be answered. I am here with a conviction, you see, a desire to put an untold story into words.
I'm loath to admit it but I myself do not know how the end comes to be. All I know is that the story has latched onto me and grates on my very mind. I have no choice but to see it unfold from my fingers, and I assure you that you, too, will be just as transfixed.
And so now, it begins...
Black Country House, September 11th, 1929
Black growled. His youngest brother... a disgrace. And only now, after the others had been safely admitted to school, had his sire thought it fit to tell them of the latest great blow to the otherwise pristine reputation of their family. As head of the family, he would have to take action. Keeping the boy was out of the question. He would have to be sent away to live with his own kind. Questions would be asked, he knew, and whispers would follow them for an eternity. The coldest of the Blacks, yes, the one who sent his own brother away. But what choice did they have? No, they did not want another choice, another alternative to cover up the mishap. Let the world see the purity of the Blacks, who valued it above all else. Marius Black would be sent away.
The midwife mopped her brow with her apron and anxiously looked at the writhing woman below her. These Blacks, she thought, always the most painful of births. And the most complicated ones...
Irma Black let out a guttural scream, and had the midwife and her helpers in the room not been witches, they surely would have crossed themselves to ward themselves against a possession.
"You there!" the midwife suddenly snapped, pointing to a girl standing near the bed. "Heat the water once again and get a fresh cloth for the lady."
As the girl rushed to do her bidding, the midwife examined Lady Irma of the Blacks and chewed on her dry lip thoughtfully. The child inside the woman's womb was nowhere in sight. Although the water had broken out hours ago, the poor woman was still in labour with the child showing no signs of wanting to start his birthing.
A simple magic Detection Charm told her the cause of this, but sadly, it did not tell her the solution. It was her educated belief that Irma had suffered from some shock earlier that day, which had propelled her into labour before she was ready. Panicked upon realizing what had happened, her magic had created a shield for the child, which currently barricaded it inside her womb. She could only guess, given the haste of the situation, whether the child inside was still able to breathe.
Accidental magic was starting to become a common thing among pure-blood families as of late, and Irma belonged to one of them—the Crabbes. The midwife shifted on her feet slightly as she nursed a slightly prejudiced thought. The Crabbes were nowhere near as powerful as the Blacks, which should make it easier for her to break through the ward. Breaking the shield was her only choice. No potion or spell was now safe for the woman or her child. Breaking a ward required less energy, though, as the recent developments in that area of study allowed the use of the ward's own magic to break it. But, should she take too long or should the ward prove to be too hard to break, its reactive magic could seriously harm the woman and even kill her child.
If it isn't dead already, she thought, exasperated. It was this that settled it for her. If there was already a chance that the child was fighting for his life at that moment, she had no choice but to act at once.
Pulling her wand out, she closed her eyes in concentration and whispered, "Merlin, help me," before beginning a complex wand movement to break the ward.
Ten minutes into the spell, no change was apparent, and Irma Black was, if anything, more agitated than before. The midwife continued her silent incantation while her two helpers looked on anxiously. A dire fate awaited them as well as the midwife, should anything unfortunate happen to the lady or her child. The Blacks were quite an unforgiving lot.
Fifteen minutes had passed. And then twenty. The midwife was drenched in sweat now, her left hand not risking her concentration to mop at her brow again.
Finally, she gave a low shout of triumph—which quickly turned to horror as Irma started screaming in earnest. The girls, a smart bunch, had already begun speaking in the woman's ear to make her start pushing. The ward had been broken, and now the birthing had truly begun.
Some twenty more minutes and a mild Charm later, a small, howling and blood-stained baby was resting in the midwife's arms. Irma had promptly collapsed with exhaustion as soon as the cord linking the mother and the baby had been severed. The girls came towards her with their arms outstretched and she gladly handed over the child for them to clean.
After the baby had been wrapped in clean towels and Irma had been made comfortable, the midwife straightened her appearance and made her way outside with the baby. She had been expecting to find an anxious party waiting for her. They had been in there for nearly ten hours. But she sighed as she remembered her role in the birthing of the other two children—Walburga and Alphard, she believed their names were. There had been no one to receive her even at the birth of the first-born or the second child.
With another sigh and an almost pitying glance at the baby in her arms, she made her way downstairs to the parlour where, hopefully, she would be able to find another human being.
She began her descent of the stairs and was midway when she was stopped by the sweet voice of a young girl that caused a chill to run down her spine. She turned to see a five-year-old little girl, who, she presumed, was Walburga, standing atop the stairs, her hands on her hips.
"Our father isn't here. You can leave the baby with one of the house-elves," spoke the fair, dark-haired girl with a confidence that was very odd indeed in a child.
Her lace frock, little buckled boots and immaculate appearance put the midwife on edge as well. After her initial shock wore off, she chided herself. Had she honestly just been considering handing over the child of a Black to the house-elves at the insistence of a toddler?
She looked back at Walburga with a stern look and said, "Now my dear, little children like yourself should be outside, playing, not mixing up orders for a poor old lady. I wasn't told to leave the baby anywhere. I would gladly leave him with your mother, had she not gone to sleep. Now please, has your father said anything about when he would be returning?"
The girl stood there emotionlessly and said, "You're going to get into trouble for not doing like I said."
With that, she turned away and disappeared into one of the rooms, leaving the midwife perplexed. Just then, the doors to the hall were thrown open as a striking Pollux Black came striding into the hall with another man by his side. They conversed in low, stressed voices and took no notice of her or the baby as they made their way up the stairs, past her.
"Please, sir, wait," the midwife called.
The men stopped and turned, looking annoyed at the interruption.
Pollux asked, "What is it, woman?"
"I... Well, err, this is your child right here. He was born just moments ago. It was quite a difficult delivery actually; your wife's just—"
"I thought the message for the child to be left with an elf had been relayed to you," Pollux spoke in a soft voice, seemingly polite but with a cold bite that was evident in every word.
"If, by 'relayed', you mean I was to take the word of a child of five—" she began furiously, only to be cut off again.
"You are here for rendering services to the House of Black. You are being paid handsomely for it. Therefore, I would say it is your duty to not only listen to but also act upon the direct orders of any Black."
She opened her mouth to argue again but was stopped with the wave of an impatient hand before she could even begin.
"Enough of this idle chatter. Leave the child with an elf. And then get yourself and your women out of my house at once."
With that, the two men walked off, leaving the midwife appalled and more than a little angry.
Muttering furiously to herself, she stalked off to the room they had delivered the child in. To her surprise, Irma Black was sitting up to drink a Strengthening Potion with the help of one of the girls. When she walked in with the baby, the woman gave a soft cry and held her arms out for the child. Finally, thought the midwife as she handed the baby over to her. Irma cradled it to her chest, smiling down at it. Her smile was strained, though, and when she looked up at the midwife, she looked almost apologetic.
"You probably had to wander a bit to find someone to take him. And probably heard a few unkind words as well."
The midwife looked up, surprised. Irma had never shown her any kind of acknowledgement, let alone any kindness after the birthing of her other two children. Knowing this, the midwife stammered as she answered, "W-well, I... not really... I mean, I suppose your husband was busy..."
Irma gave a dry chuckle and said, "My husband? Oh dear, you must have had quite a hard time then. Don't worry yourself, though... Behind the doors to this expensive manor lies a completely different world. No outsider can ever understand it," she declared with a far-off look in her eyes and then added softly, "Even I haven't been able to, after so many years..."
The midwife looked at the lady of the manor with an apprehensive look. She was no great looker—her strong jaw and plaintive hair, especially when compared to her daughter's, made her so. Her eyes were beautiful enough, though, a soft blue, marred only by the pain the midwife and her girls had just been given a glimpse into.
The midwife almost reached out a comforting hand to the mother, then stopped herself. No, these were still the rich, arrogant pure-bloods, and they guarded their problems as jealously as they did their secrets. It would not do well for her to overstep the boundaries that were so carefully set in current society.
She cleared her throat slightly and Irma looked up, her mask and cold façade back in place.
"Ah, yes. Your payment. A house-elf is waiting by the door with it."
The girls looked unnerved by the sudden change in her attitude, but the old midwife had seen the world and then some and was relieved that she hadn't tried to pry any further before. She merely nodded and gave a slight bow, and the girls, after curtseying, followed her out.
Before she left, though, even her old heart could not save her from turning back and looking at the mother and the child once more. Then, most certainly overstepping the boundaries, she asked, "What will you name him?"
Irma looked up at her, expressionless. "He is to be called Cygnus Black the Third, after his paternal grandfather."
Of course, thought the midwife, inclining her head slightly and turning away. Of course they were the type of family to flaunt their heritage with titles such as 'the Third'. She fleetingly wondered whether the woman had had any choice in the name of her son.
Sighing, she motioned the girls onward with a nod as they had stopped to wait for her. As she received her payment and walked down the long winding path that was strewn with autumn leaves, she could not help but shiver a little from the atmosphere around the mansion.
Far from celebrating the birth of a son, it seemed as though the tall shrivelling trees and the powerful old mansion mourned something terrible instead.
Hogwarts, October 31st, 1940
She was sitting imperiously, a small smile on her chiselled face, talking quietly to the other students around her. He came and sat down across from her, willing her to look up and meet his eyes. Feeling his burning gaze, she looked up, her smile gone and her eyes cold. His eyes showed a warning telling her that what he'd been dreading had happened. Leaning forward slightly, she looked around the table on both sides, a smile back on her face as she greeted those who caught her eye. He waited impatiently for her inspection. She finally leaned back, looked at him and with a slight shrug of her shoulders, dismissed his worries. He gritted his teeth and looked up at the bewitched dark ceiling that showed the sky outside, his stomach slightly clenching. He was missing... their youngest brother.
"Well, go on, then, Black. Not scared, are you?"
The loud, raucous laughter echoed off the tall twisted trees, and the creatures within their depths stirred, the otherwise quiet whisper of their movements swelling.
"S-sit tight till the morning then... we'll come for you at sunrise." The speaker was a thickset boy of fourteen, his face hooded except for the slits through which his eyes could be seen. The eyes were darting around in fear, his feet already moving back from the outskirts of the Forbidden Forest.
"Or whatever's left of you at least," sniggered his braver friend, who was holding his wand pointed straight at another boy, smaller and younger than two of them.
"May the creatures have no mercy on you," he spat, and Cygnus watched the two retreat, his hands forming fists in anger and fear.
It was a cold night, and the shadows and mist hung low to the ground, swirling around his legs. Turning away from the tempting view of the castle, Cygnus stood facing the entrance of the silent forest. He just had to last the night. If he did, he would never be bothered again, never be made a scapegoat for his dear sister.
The absolute blame for his predicament rested with her, of course. Why else would two fourth-years kidnap him from his dormitory and then place a spell on him that made it impossible for him to return before dawn? Their attempts to exact revenge by endangering him were futile, though, as they were probably finding out at this moment. Walburga would never lift her painted fingers to save him. Alphard might have, but lately it was as if he had been rendered useless.
Cygnus looked around the forest with distaste. He needed a place to hide. Some small alcove where he could pass the night. He then spotted an old tree with branches sagging to the ground, easy enough for him to climb. Checking around quickly for any unfriendly prowlers, Cygnus settled in between two branches. It wasn't the least bit comfortable, but it felt safer than being on ground, unprotected.
Mouth set into a hard line and nails digging into his palms, Cygnus sat casting a wary gaze around him every now and then, ears perking at every little sound. The more he listened, the more the earlier silence of the forest seemed non-existent. Branches creaked above him, twigs snapped ominously and tiny feet scampered here and there, their owners invisible in the mist. The darkness was oppressing, and even for Cygnus, who'd seen similar darkness in the corners of the old mansion set in the countryside, this darkness seemed dangerous and wild.
Sometime along the journey of the bright moon through the night sky, Cygnus fell into a doze, his vigilance slipping...
He then awoke with a start, he could not tell how much time later, heart thumping wildly. He looked around frantically, searching for what had awoken him. Suddenly, he grew still, fear clawing at the pits of his stomach. There was a loud hiss circling the tree where he still sat, growing louder by the second. He shivered as he saw the mist, which looked as though it was churning, cloaking the forest and making it impossible to see in any direction.
As the hissing grew louder still, Cygnus jumped off the tree, falling on his knees. Without a care to his bleeding kneecaps and scraped hands, he started to run with not a clue of the right direction, keen to get away from the insistent hissing and the rustle of dead leaves that now surrounded it.
He did not know how far he had run, occasionally stumbling and hurting himself. He constantly looked back over his shoulder, but the hiss followed him unceasingly.
A cry escaped his lips as he fell onto his front, tripping over a root. Shutting his eyes tight for the bite of the snake he knew was sure to kill him, Cygnus waited, panting and praying to no one... only loathing his family and the way he would never, in a million years, be missed.
Then, a different hiss. Almost... human? A chuckle came next, and then some more of the human hissing. Then the menacing hiss that had followed him before suddenly came to a stop. Taking a deep breath, Cygnus slowly raised his head off the cold ground and was surprised to find... a boy before him. A boy that looked no older than fourteen or fifteen, with dark hair and a face with sunken cheeks. He looked as handsome as any Black.
Cygnus scrambled to his feet and looked around him. There was no trace of any snake, and even the mist seemed to have died down a little. Looking back at his saviour, Cygnus openly stared before saying disbelievingly, "You... saved my life."
The boy gave a nod and said, "This forest is no place for a first year, Cygnus Black... Especially on Hallows Eve." His words were contradicted by his gaze, though, which flitted about the misty forest with an almost fond look.
"You're a Parselmouth. And you know my name."
"I am," said the boy a tad gravely. "As for your name, you are quite famous, and I happen to be, ah... acquainted with your charming sister, Walburga."
An angry flush crept upon Cygnus' face as he thought of his sister, but his voice was calm when he spoke next.
"Why are you here? In the forest, I mean."
"This forest is a favourite haunt of mine, you could say. I come here often... it helps me think," he said with a smirk.
"The snake... What did you say to it?"
"I asked her why she was following you," he said, and Cygnus could hear the laughter behind his words, "she said it was rare for as beautiful a boy like you to come to her lair, especially tonight. She could hardly pass you up."
Cygnus flushed at the boy's words and asked, "Then why did she?"
"Only because I asked her to."
Although he would have liked to ask why the boy did so, he didn't. Something told him he wouldn't get a straight answer anyway. Instead he began, "I still have to stay here, until—"
"Dawn. I know. I also know the names of those who have put the spell on you. It's been rather enjoyable to watch the whole affair."
Another smirk. Cygnus was liking his saviour less and less as he caught onto the obvious attempt to bait him.
"What do you want in return? For saving me and for the names."
"You're a smart one, Cygnus, quick to catch on. I require only one thing in return. Your word."
"My word for what?"
"That one day when I ask you to honour this debt, you will," he spoke calmly, his eyes fixed on Cygnus's blue ones.
Needless to say, Cygnus was perplexed. From what he'd started dreaming up in the span of a few seconds, what the boy had actually asked for was a far cry. There was no denying that the condition was odd, though, and Cygnus wondered about his motives. Still, he reasoned, he owed the boy whatever he wanted, and there was no choice for him but to say yes, motive or not.
"Alright," Cygnus said stiffly, holding out his hand for the other boy to shake.
Tom reached out and shook the boy's hand, a peculiar throb of magic running between their fingers. It couldn't have been an Unbreakable Vow, but it was a magical acknowledgement. Cygnus Black and Tom Riddle had struck a deal.
Tom gave another smirk before releasing his hand and saying, "I'm Tom Riddle, by the way."
Cygnus merely nodded. He'd heard of him even if nobody really knew him, except that he was an orphan, a Muggle-born or more likely a half-blood. He was a third year Slytherin, but he already had some kind of influence in the House of Snakes. It was of no consequence to Cygnus, however, as from now on, Tom Riddle would always be a mystery to him and a burden.
"Enjoy your stay in the forest then," Riddle said, letting go of his hand, "I suppose you'll be seeing me sometime in the future... Be careful not to wander off the path. Once you are able to leave, continue walking north-west, and you'll find yourself on the outskirts of the forest near the lake."
Cygnus nodded again and then, with a quick wave to him, Riddle disappeared into the shadows, leaving him alone once again.