The Heir and a Spare – 1/6 – SASundance

Title: The Heir and a Spare
Author: SASundance
Fandom: Harry Potter
Genre: Family, Hurt/Comfort, Tragedy
Relationship(s): Gen
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Hate Crimes/Hate Speech, Incest, Torture, Violence – Graphic, Violence – Domestic and/or Against Children, Cousin Incest, Discussion of canon related under-aged sex and pregnancies, Suicidality of a character, Insanity, Infertility issues, Linebreeding, Very dark themes, Rape and torture of victims, Child abuse, Bigotry and ignorance, War and cults, misogyny, dubcon, misunderstanding of genetics.
Author Notes: If you are likely to be triggered, please take warnings seriously. There is a lot of dark content in this one. It is a story of war, hate and vengeance. To clarify the cousin incest warning – it takes place between first cousins, which in the UK and other countries in perfectly legal and not considered to be incest, but I recently discovered that was not the case in the USA and potentially other countries may be the same, hence the warning. This story starts out in mid 1950’s Britain, and the views of the patriarchal characters are very much in keeping with the time, that is to say, they are bigoted and very offensive at times. This story, although it is complete, has left the way open for a possible sequel. Like most of my fics, I like to tie up loose ends but deliberately leave some unresolved in case I have the time or inclination to write a sequel. Finally, I need to acknowledge the invaluable resources of the Harry Potter Lexicon and the Harry Potter Wiki which I used while writing for a quick reference source for many of the little details in the story and the Black Family tree which I’ve spent way too many hours pouring over during the writing of this story. Author uses British spelling
Word Count: 177,000
Summary: It was clear to Lord Arcturus Black, Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Black that the most powerful pureblood family in Britain faced the prospect of line extinction within the next few generation. Unless the decline in birth rates, fertility, magic, and longevity wasn’t arrested soon, it would be too late. He came up with a unique solution to his problem, never realising that it would make it possible for the House of Black to defeat an existential threat to the magical and muggle world. But that victory would come at considerable cost to the family, in particular to his heir and the spare.
Artist: librarycat9



Prologue

3rd November 1959

The father of the baby prophesied by the seer to be a boy waited anxiously for him to make his grand entrance. Time seemed to have slowed to a crawl; every minute seemed to stretch on into eternity. Funny, he mused; he’d never noticed the slowing down of time like this when his older children were born decades before. Yet the truth was, there was nowhere near as much at stake back then or if there was, he’d been blissfully ignorant about it. Knowing this could be make or break time for their family’s future probably explained why time seemed to be standing still.

He groaned quietly; this waiting was nothing short of torture. He wanted to hear the comforting cries of a lusty infant but so far there was silence. That said, the father was savvy enough to know that a silencing charm had been cast by the healer so that those waiting downstairs such as himself and his strawberry blonde-haired companion couldn’t hear what was going on up there. A courtesy for which he was eternally grateful.

Even with pain potions, he knew enough to know that giving birth was not a painless process. It gave him an even greater respect for the stoicism witches called upon to endure when giving birth to infants. However, he also preferred to remain in blissful ignorance about exactly how much labour pain the mother of his child was going through right now.  Abstract knowing was easier than experiential participation.

He glanced across at his companion as they waited in the comfortable reception room. Of course, it wasn’t overly large or grandly imposing, unlike the one he’d so recently left, having been summoned by the healer’s Patronus to say the child was on its way. A long-awaited male child – if the seer was to be believed, although the perennially cautious wizard hardly dared to believe their hopes had been realised. In a futile effort to distract himself from the protracted wait for the child’s arrival, he looked around the room which bore a very superficial resemblance to his own Manor House. The colours here, unlike his own that were predominately a deep dark green and dark wood, were of more neutral shades for furnishings and wall, although rich and luxurious enough to impress him.

Still, the room didn’t evoke the same feelings of sumptuous grandeur and daunting magnificence as his own reception room, which, in truth was as large as many of his contemporary’s ballrooms. That was hardly surprising – his domicile largely reflected the position of power and influence he wielded within the magical world. Certain appearances must be maintained regardless of the wizard’s true personality. He had an image to protect since he was top of the food chain within the Wizengamot and various hierarchies, alliances, and factions therein. It behoved him to employ every technique, use any or all ploys, manipulations, and devices if it facilitated him in communicating his status and superiority over his so-called peers and colleagues.

Status was never static – he knew well that there was always someone looking to knock you off your perch and install themselves at the top. It was something his successors had learnt the hard way, that you couldn’t afford to let you guard down, not even for a minute. Someone was always waiting for a sign of momentary weakness to make a strike against you, even your so-called supporters.

Hence, it was utterly necessary to strive for grandiosity and yes, even portentousness, even though it could be exhausting sometimes. Nevertheless, it was the price one paid for power and he paid it willing to ensure the future of his family. He knew his duty and he accepted it, although he could admit (if only to himself) that this residence was impressive in its own way. It also managed to convey an air of welcoming comfort to those who stepped inside it, in a way that his room did not.

Looking across at his companion, he noted her amusement at his obvious impatience, which he found a little unnerving. Most people were unable to read the wizard’s countenance since he’d been schooled for almost six decades in how to not reveal his feelings. Her grey eyes watched him discreetly as they waited impatiently for the arrival of the child. He eyed her dispassionately but with the eyes of a wizard who was used to being in the presence of beautiful witches. Her pale turquoise robes and several floaty silk scarves in aquatic tones of sea green, ocean blue and mauve were rather unorthodox and yet she wore them well. They highlighted her strawberry blonde hair, worn in a loose bun, tendrils escaping down the back of her slender aristocratic neck.

The urbane wizard studied her the way he might a work of art or appreciate a vintage wine from his cellar. Despite the odd wrinkle, especially around her eyes which indicated she was not quite as young or naïve as one might first assume she was beautiful.  And yet, despite her youth (compared to himself) she had a timelessness about her appropriate for someone of her status. The wizard noticed one curious, albeit rather jarring note regarding her appearance. She was wearing a necklace that looked to all intents and purposes to be made from butterbeer corks. Of course, for all he knew, this could be some vital accoutrement of her trade – perhaps it was used for scrying or some such practise.

One thing was certain though, he would never condescend to ask her about it. A wizard in his position could never afford to show ignorance of something that he might conceivably be expected to know. Experience and his elders had long ago schooled him that it was better to act enigmatic and noncommittal than appear to be an illiterate fool.

Just as he was contemplating sending his Patronus to demand an update on proceedings, a startled and dare he say it, a rather disgruntled scream of an infant rang out. A sound that was welcomed by both occupants of the room if he were any judge, based on the beatific smile of his companion, leaving them with a sense of almost unbearable anticipation that it wouldn’t be long now. A few minutes later a tall raven-haired healer appeared in the doorway, smiling at them.

“Mother and baby are both safe and well,” he reported, relief evident on his sweat-stained and strained features. Unlike the waiting wizard, this male was not afeared of expressing his emotions and being judged for them. Anticipating the wizard’s first question about his child, he pre-empted his enquiry, announcing joyously, “It’s a boy!”

The imposingly distinguished and stoic wizard felt an enormous wave of relief wash over him before his knees felt incapable of holding him up after decades of supporting him. He glanced around the room surreptitiously to see if some unknown intruder had dared to hex him.

“Just need to get him and his mother freshened up then we can proceed with the ritual and examination,” the healer promised the father and the seer, turning on his heel and disappearing upstairs into the birthing chamber.

Arcturus Black confirming that no one had hexed him, started to pace nervously. So far so good. All was preceding to plan.

Hearing a pop, he turned around slowly, his hand reaching for his wand. Standing next to the small side table, a house-elf was placing a silver tray containing several crystal glasses of liquid down onto the mother of the pearl inlay surface. The house-elf was staring neutrally at the disillusioned wand that Black had drawn and was now trying covertly return to its holster, giving the wizard pause. He didn’t want to think that house-elves could see past the charm work of a powerful wizard such as himself but without asking Jaxy outright and risk losing face, there was no way to quieten his fear.

The dour house-elf bowed low; his small mouth crinkled subtly. “Jaxy thinks everyone needs a drink. Ogden’s Finest Fire Spirits for Lord Black and Elven wine for Madame Knows-The-Future.”

Picking up his glass with a nod of thanks and gallantly handing Callisto her own crystal goblet with a courtly bow, he swiftly proposed a toast, “To the future,” clinking his glass against Callisto’s wine glass before throwing down the fiery liquor.

If this went to plan there would be much riding on the boy…on Arcturus’ heir.

Part One: The Changelings

Chapter 1

3rd January 1958

Arcturus Black III and his cousin, Pollux Black had discussed the perilous state that the Ancient and Noble House of Black confronted quite a lot.  Arcturus was now the Head of the House of Black with the passing of the previous Lord Black, his father, Sirius Black II, and the new lord frequently sought the counsel of  his cousin, Pollux on House matters. Both cousins knew that there was a very real possibility of the House dying out if something wasn’t done to stop the rapid decline in their line. They’d reached the conclusion that the decline was a case of too many other families marrying into the house of Black, diluting their blood and genes.

Notable families who they were now related to by marriage included: Gamp, Bulstrode, Crabbe, Flint, Rosier, McMillan, Longbottoms, Burke, Prewitt, Yaxley and the Crouches and that was just in the last three or so generations. Yes, they were also pureblood families, but none were as pure as the Blacks, who were not permitted to marry anyone, not of pure blood. Any Black failing to observe their stringent purity standards were summarily disowned by the family but the existential threat now facing them was proof positive in their minds to the truth that even amongst the pureblood families, no one was as diligent about protecting their purity as the Ancient and Noble House of Black was.

Of course, Arcturus acknowledged there was the somewhat peripheral issue of the unanticipated cost of previous Lord Blacks, forced to disown family members in the last few generations which clearly had impacted on them. His Great Aunt Iola Black for marrying a muggle, his Uncle Phineas Black for his pro-muggle support and Marius Black his second cousin (and Pollux’s brother) who’d been a squib. While Marius’ blood was undoubtedly tainted, the other two Blacks had impeccable breeding credentials which were now being sorely felt in this time of crisis. His spies told him that Iola had produced many offspring, most of them males and she had borne at least five magical children. If she had done her duty and married a pureblood instead of a muggle it would have left the House of Black in a much sounder situation, Arcturus felt sure of that.

The most recent case where his father, Sirius had been forced to disown a daughter of the house was not all that long before his passing. Arcturus’ father had stripped his cousin Cedrella of her status as a member of the House of Black when she married Septimus Weasley who the Blacks considered a blood traitor. Like Iola, Cedrella had excellent bloodlines, which they lost when she failed in her duty to make a suitable marriage. It was disappointing, to say the least.

There was also the vexing matter of four daughters of the house of Black (his Great Aunt Eliadora, his sister Lycoris and Pollux’s sisters, Cassiopeia and Dorea) failing to marry and/or to produce children, which was not helpful for their family fortunes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t only the witches who were not living up to their family obligations either. Arcturus’ own brother Regulus Black had also so far failed to marry or produce any legitimate children, Pollux’s son Alphard showed no sign of settling down to raise a family and even his great uncle, Lord Sirius Black had never married or produced an heir. He’d ended up naming his nephew Sirius Black II to succeed him.

Any of these factors on their own would have been a threat to their existence, but when taken together it had Arcturus genuinely concerned since it meant that very few Black males were being produced to carry on the Black name and bloodline. Plus, of mounting concern to both wizards was the fact that no one in the last four generations had even managed to live to reach a century, a feat which for a magical person wasn’t even that noteworthy. Witches and wizards statistically lived a lot longer than muggles, it was not uncommon for them to reach 140 years or more.

All of those issues when taken together, pointed to the house of Black being doomed in the next few generations to suffer line extinction unless something was done to arrest the decline. His own beloved brother Regulus had recently celebrated his 50th birthday, only to be given the grim news that he had a wizard wasting disease that would put him in the Black Family Crypt within the next five year, maybe less which had devastated them.

The news of Regulus’ misfortune, both for him personally as well as for its implication for the future of the House of Black was why Arcturus was now contemplating taking some rather drastic actions.  He knew that it would make several family members very unhappy, but it couldn’t be helped if the family was to be saved. Merlin’s balls, he wasn’t exactly happy about it either, but this was a mess that he’d inherited, not created.

He’d consulted with two of his trusted advisors – both loyal family retainers to see if his Steward (who managed the affairs of Lord Black) and his Equerry (who managed his stables of Thestrals) to see if they had any suggestions about solutions to the problem.

Interestingly, their recommendations had run along similar lines to his own. They’d expressed the belief that the House of Black needed to do some line breeding to arrest the situation as soon as practicable. In other words, they needed to breed a Black wizard to a Black witch to shore up the line of succession. One suggestion was that Arcturus’ heir, his son Orion, should marry one a cousin to consolidate and strengthen the Black line which had been weakened over the generations by intermarrying with too many other families, even if they were purebloods.  His cousin Pollux also agreed in principle with the House Steward and Equerry’s suggestion, but Arcturus could also see there was a problem, in terms of who was the best witch for his son to marry.

The only candidates for Orion to marry were one of Pollux’s two sisters – Cassiopeia and Dorea or his daughter Walburga (who, to be kind, was somewhat less than emotionally stable) or else he could marry Arcturus’ sister Lycoris.

Cassiopeia Leah Black preferred witches to wizards. Her father, Cygnus Black tried to marry her off to the current Lord Stoddard Withers who was also the great, great, great, great, great-grandson of the original Lord who first bred the Abraxan Flying Horse. No doubt Cygnus had been hoping to acquire fresh breeding stock (in particular, a prized young stallion to boost his own line of Abraxans) as part-payment for marrying his stunningly beautiful daughter. Cassiopeia had reacted BADLY. She’d threatened to geld Lord Stoddard and her father if they tried to force her into marriage.  Her brother, Pollux didn’t think it worth asking her to marry Orion and procreate for the good of the  Ancient  and Noble House of Blacks and Arcturus agreed with his assessment. It was unfortunate, because she came from exceptionally good breeding stock.

Arcturus’ sister Lycoris wasn’t a viable option either. As a teenager, she’d fallen in with a bad crowd of foolish Slytherin witches at Hogwarts that had led to a silly schoolgirl prank with unfortunate consequences. A temporary infertility spell she’d cast to steal another witch’s boyfriend convinced her rival was trying to conceive a child and trap him into marrying her, ended up rebounding onto her when the witch threw up a powerful shielding charm. It caused his beautiful but incredibly foolish young sister to become barren.

She never married and ended up becoming rather reclusive and morose. But of course, even had she been fertile, it would have been inappropriate for her to marry her nephew. A cousin (even a first cousin) was deemed a more suitable union in the wizarding world.  Unfortunately, Arcturus and Pollux’s other cousins, Callidora and Charis, had both married young and although they’d borne three witches between them, the girls were still too young to be married. That just left Arcturus’ other cousin, Dorea and Pollux’s daughter Walburga, he didn’t see a lot of choices.

Cousin Dorea, like her sister Cassiopeia, was certainly a beauty, which was typical of the Black witches and wizards. They both epitomised the Blacks, beautiful, willowy, and graceful, with long silky hair and grey eyes. Although Dorea’s eyes were a rather extraordinary hue, a silvery grey colour that was quite captivating, he must admit. She and Arcturus’ son Orion would have made some highly attractive babies and strengthened the Black bloodline immensely, helping to arrest its increasingly weakened state. Too much intermingling, even if it was from other pureblood families could be seen by the effects it was having on the family – a formerly robust and prolific house but now, teetering on the precipice of extinction.

However, there was one other rather large problem with his cousin Dorea marrying Orion that was staring him in the face – her political views were quite anarchistic. She openly admired their Uncle Phineas, who’d been disowned for his support of muggle rights. Phineas Black had no doubt been egged on by his chum and blood traitor, Henry Potter aka Harry, who as a member of the Wizengamot from 1913 – 1921 spoke out strongly, condemning Archer Evermore, the then Minister for Magic who’d forbade the magical community from helping the Muggle world to fight during WWI.

Eventually driven out of the Wizengamot for his outrageous views, and rightly so, Arcturus believed, Henry Potter continued to agitate for Muggle rights. Potter had inevitably and selfishly drawn his Uncle Phineas into the melee. It hadn’t helped matters that Phineas had been extremely fond of his Aunt Iola Black when he was growing up who’d had appalling bad taste, not to mention the frightful bad judgement to disobey the families wishes and marry a muggle. It was of course inevitable that Iola was expelled from the family, but Phineas secretly continued to have contact with her although neither was as discreet as they believed. The former Lord Black, his father Sirius II was aware of their continued contact but had turned a blind eye, believing it was harmless until he was disowned.

Dorea had always been close to her Uncle Phineas and therefore had long ago meet the Blood traitor and radical, Henry Potter, who not surprisingly, had introduced the lovely Dorea Black to his heir, Fleamont and his only nephew, Charlus Potter. It was an open secret amongst the family that she was infatuated with Charlus, who although a Potter and therefore not one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight Families, was not considered to be quite as tainted as Henry or his son, Fleamont Potter. Everyone was waiting to see if she also defied the family and ended up marrying Charlus or came to her senses. Arcturus was hoping on the latter course, that she chose a suitable wizard and produced Black progeny which was sorely needed but he also wasn’t holding his breath either.

Dorea had plenty of suitors over the years (including the pugnaciously ambitious Tom Riddle who she’d slapped down hard) and plenty of other wizards asking for her hand in marriage. Arcturus wasn’t entirely sure why his Uncle Cygnus hadn’t arranged a suitable match before his untimely death. Perhaps it was his strong-willed wife Violetta, who seemed to lead him around by his wand – the Bulstrodes were well known for their tenacity if not their cunning and ambition, despite their sorting into Slytherin House. Although to be fair, his Uncle Cygnus had never seemed the same after his firstborn, Pollux Black impregnated Irma Crabbe at Hogwarts when he was only 12 years old. The randy little bugger turned out to be as stupid as he was sex obsessed, because if you were going to go dipping your nib in someone’s inkwell, then you should pick a family who doesn’t have a gaggle of insane witches in it.

Seriously, Arcturus was sure that the Crabbe family was living under a curse. At least a good proportion of the males were thicker than blocks of granite and half the Crabbe females were crazy as loons. Pollux’ daughter Walburga was a case in point – mad as a box of angry vipers.  And while it was too soon to be sure, Arcturus was deeply concerned about Pollux’s granddaughter, Bellatrix Black who, at 7 years old, was already torturing pet kneazles that her father, Cygnus kept around to help manage the rodent population on their pastoral home. Her demented cackling when she managed to catch one of the unfortunate creatures as she proceeded to kill it was blood-chilling and somewhat reminiscent of Walburga’s rants when her displeasure was invoked which admittedly didn’t take much.

What was perhaps even more disturbing to Arcturus was Pollux’s daughter’s bizarre relationship with a vile little house elf named Kreacher. It wasn’t clear if her relationship with it was nurturing or amorous, but from his perspective it was depraved. Pollux swore it wasn’t sexual and Arcturus prayed to Merlin that his cousin was correct, but something was disturbing about Walburga on a deeply visceral level. His cousin brushed off his concerns, suggesting that she just needed to be married and give birth to a witch or wizard onto which she could direct her maternal drives and perhaps he was right. It wasn’t natural for witches not to produce children – it thwarted their maternal instincts.

This probably explained why his cousin Cassiopeia went around wanting to geld any wizards who happened to be attracted to her, which to be fair was a lot. After all, she possessed all the Black beauty, just did not have any of their charm when it came to men. Still, her unfathomable attraction to other witches could conceivably be laid at the feet of her older brother. Seeing Pollux unable to keep his wand in his robe, taking advantage of his good looks and charm to seduce the homely but equally randy 16-year-old Irma Crabbe in a broom closet at Hogwarts and ruining her reputation when she was with child, must have made quite an impact on an impressionable young witch. It could well have turned her off all men.

That and the fact that Violetta and Hester had said that Irma had screamed as if she was being torn in two while giving birth to Walburga, despite the healer giving Irma potions for the pain. Arcturus reckoned that had to be terrifying for the ten-year-old Cassie who’d had been there at the birth of her niece, Walburga. Mind you, Arcturus thought that with the right persuasion from a wizard who knew how to use his wand and his other tools skilfully to pleasure a witch, she would realise what she’d been missing out on. All it needed was a real wizard to fuck her and his beautiful cousin would drop all this twaddle about being attracted to witches and do her duty to her family and get with child. Once she was having regular sex with a wizard, he was absolutely convinced that her attitude would improve too.

Arcturus had a secret fantasy about his beautiful cousin. He imagined her writhing in ecstasy beneath him, moaning, bucking, and calling out his name as he spilled his seed into her. His wife Melania never had any complaints about his sexual techniques, and he knew he was extremely well endowed – even at school his roommates had been impressed, even while they attempted to hide it. Before he started courting Melania in his younger days, his conquests had always been quite flattering about their trysts and he knew that he was far less skilled back then. He genuinely believed if anyone could show Cassie the error of her ways, surely it would be him.

And as the head of the Noble and Ancient House of Black, it was most definitely within his power to order her to lie with him and make a baby for the good of the family. He couldn’t help being attracted to her, her fire was unadulterated Black spirit and although she was very opinionated, like his favourite winged mare, Dianthus, Cassie’s passions were about witches’ rights – that they should be able to be in the line of succession as equals to wizards. That who has been deemed an heir should be based on birth order, not gender and other fanciful notions, but she wasn’t caught up in all that muggles rights twaddle. Dorea was, and that was worrying because that wrongheaded philosophy was anathema to the future of the purebloods power – if muggle borns were permitted to have equality, he was sure that within a century the Sacred Twenty-Eight families would cease to exist.

Pureblood ascendancy must be maintained at all costs, which was why he was willing to humour this Tom Riddle fellow who was insisting on being referred to as Lord Voldemort.  Granted he was a rather nasty wizard if what he’d been hearing from various sources was correct. He claimed to have noble blood – a direct descendant from the Gaunt line which could trace its roots right back to Salazar Slytherin himself – one of the founders of Hogwarts. Not that Arcturus believed him for a moment – the Gaunt line was extinct with the death of Morfin Gaunt in 1943. From what he’d discovered when he had him checked out with his sources, Riddle was some muggle-born waif who’d grown up in a Muggle orphanage.  At best the boy had been half-blood if not full muggle or even of squib parentage. For some reason, the wizard had some extreme hatred of muggles which considering his own background was rather hypocritical.

However, the fact remained that Riddle wanted to ensure that muggles didn’t overreach themselves and take control of the wizarding world and Arcturus was on board with his agenda. It wasn’t just that the Black family were in danger of becoming irrelevant or worse but at the same time, muggle-borns seemed to be proliferating at much higher rates than purebloods. Therefore, they posed an existential threat to purebloods in the British Isles. Unlike some of the Blacks of past generations, Arcturus didn’t have any fundamental hatred for muggle-born wizards and witches, but their sheer numbers and their fertility threatened the very existence of the Sacred Twenty-Eight.

The Gaunt family line had gone extinct, and the Crouch line was in dire straits, Bartemius was the only male left, born to his cousin Charis Black who’d married Casper Couch. Unless young Barty who was quite ambitious and determined to make his way in the Ministry of Magic managed to produce an heir, the Crouch line would more than likely go extinct too.

Of course, there was the blood traitors, the Weasleys who were bucking the trend of low birth rates, seeming to produce progeny like puppies. He was honest enough to admit that after his father Sirius II had disowned cousin Cedrella for marrying Septimus Weasley, they’d rubbed salt into the Black fertility woes by bearing three boys. It rather seemed to Arcturus as if Magic were smiling on the disowned couple. Perhaps they should have paid a whole lot more attention to Septimus- after all his name was Latin for the seventh son, which fairly shouted fecundity from the tower tops.

However, there were other pureblood families not part of the Sacred Twenty-, such as the Potters, Crabbes, Princes and Goyles who weren’t doing so well. In fact, none of those families was doing any better when it came to producing offspring either. Henry Potter’s son, Fleamont and his wife Euphemia were childless and elderly, even by magical reproductive standards, and Fleamont’s second cousin, Charlus Potter was not married either. So even the most eternal optimist would have to concede that things looked quite bleak for the wizarding family of Potter who traced their origins back to the twelfth century. All in all, the future for purebloods looked grim – they were about to be overrun by quite literally hordes of muggles intermarrying with half-bloods and imperilling their pureblood existence.

So, if this nutter, Tom Riddle, (now insisting on calling himself Lord Voldemort) wanted to take out some of his own kind, Arcturus didn’t feel inclined to get in his way. Not that he wanted to see muggles wiped out even if that was even possible, just thinned out somewhat to balance things up a bit. Muggles and half-bloods served their purpose if they understood their rightful place and didn’t pose a threat to him and his kind. While he couldn’t for the life of him understand what this Riddle character’s agenda was in trying to attack Muggle-borns like himself, Arcturus certainly was Slytherin enough to utilise the fool’s hatred to help his own cause.

The muggles had an ancient proverb that he’d always thought was highly Slytherinesque that said, ‘Thine enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ Although he frankly despised wizards like Riddle who betrayed their family or their race, it didn’t mean Arcturus wouldn’t use him to achieve an outcome that was very much in his own best interests. It was the Slytherin thing to do.

Of course, what Riddle didn’t understand was that while he might have common goals, that didn’t make them equals. Arcturus was also aware that Riddle seemed to be fascinated by the Ancient and Noble House of Black. He’d approached him not once but twice for permission to wed his cousins, Cassiopeia and then a year later, wanting to marry Dorea. That was despite both witches turning him down flat when he’d clumsily tried to seduce them.

Somehow, Riddle had taken Cassie’s rejection with equanimity, well he had after he’d learnt that she was attracted to other witches, but he’d been less accepting of Dorea snubbing him. He still seemed determined to acquire her. However, Dorea possessed the bitingly sarcastic tongue of a true Black, able to eviscerate a foe without ever having to fall back on cheap profanity, unlike her sister Cassiopeia who possessed quite a potty mouth. Arcturus felt sure his dear cousin’s verbal takedown of the wannabe suitor would have brought proud tears of joy to the eyes of their grandfather, Phineas Nigellus Black had he still been alive. Unfortunately, he passed away at a relatively young age, seventy-eight was usually considered to middle-aged in wizarding circles.

Even so, Arcturus couldn’t help feeling some concern over Tom Riddle’s preoccupation with the House of Black. Not just wanting to marry way above his station, even if both Black women were eminently desirable. He suspected that Riddle, who by all accounts was quite a competent wizard desperately wanted the cachet of being a part of the House of Black – which was powerful and influential. The House of Black also possessed the largest private collection of ancient books, treatises, essays, and manuals relating to dark magic in the magical world, collected by various members of the Black family over the centuries.

Phineas Nigellus Black had been particularly diligent in seeking out and acquiring new works or ones that would fill a gap. It seemed that the former headmaster of Hogwarts (and Arcturus’ paternal grandfather) was also particularly obsessed with books on parseltongue magic, alchemy, and necromancy. An odd assortment of interests for the guardian of young witches and wizards at Hogwarts he must admit, yet he could see how something like alchemy would be of great value to Riddle in his quest to unleash retribution on muggle-borns. It was also why Arcturus could never allow that sort of information to fall into the hands of someone like Riddle.

It was far more prudent to finance his activities and convince the other staunch purebloods to do so too. That way, once he’d served his purpose in weakening the muggle-borns financially, politically, and yes physically so that they remembered their rightful place in Magical society, the purebloods could then crush him like the insignificant mediocrity he really was. Arcturus and his allies would cut him off at the knees financially and politically, feigning ignorance and horror at his intentions and denouncing his war on his own kind. They would come in and distribute largesse to his victims who would see the pureblood families as benefactors and owe them allegiance because they destroyed Riddle and his misguided followers.

But right now, Arcturus had far more immediate matters to attend to. The future of the House of Black was at risk and he needed to do whatever it took to shore it up. Which left him with a dilemma. Who out of the three daughters of the House of Black would be best suited to bear his new heir?

That didn’t sound arrogant, much!

Chapter 2

15th January 1958

Cassiopeia Leah Black stormed out of the Black ancestral manor, Apparating back to Blackwood Park, the home of her parents, Cygnus, and Violetta Black. Following the tragic and unexpected death of her father, her brother Pollux and his wife Irma as her father’s heir had moved into Blackwood Manor; her mother, sister Dorea and herself had decided to move into a slightly smaller abode on the massive estate, a not inconsiderate residence known as Blackwood Hall. The Blackwood estate had been purchased by her father after he married her mother, primarily to raise a family but also so he could pursue his two main passions of horse breeding and owl fancying.

The House of Black had numerous businesses and interests in companies plus a considerable portfolio of real estate properties around the United Kingdom and Europe making the Black family collectively one of the riches if not the riches magical family in the UK. The Blacks were also highly influential in Magical Europe as well. Many of the Noble Houses in Europe were eager to own a Black magical flying horse or two for their stables – Beauxbatons School of Magic in France had bought over a dozen of their Abraxans to pull their famous carriages. Many of the oldest magical Houses of Europe fell over themselves to own one of the Black’s finely- bred Abraxans, and there was an increasing interest in their Aethonan flying horses too. They were magnificent chestnut beasts, a breed which was native to Great Britain and Ireland and there was a slower but growing interest in their smaller herd of Granians. The Granians were the grey racehorses of the magical world, fleet of foot and fierce aerial fliers of the skies.

Arcturus’ also raised flying horses too, although he owned some Abraxans and a couple of Aethonans which had been bred by Blackwood Stud, her Uncle had been passionate about breeding Thestrals as was their grandfather, Phineas Nigellus Black. The former Hogwarts Headmaster had been enamoured by the magical equines who could only be seen by someone who’d previously seen death. Honestly, the skeletal conformation, no flesh; their skin clinging directly to their bone gave Cassie the creeps. She infinitely preferred the rounded gentler musculature of her charges. Also, the white eyes of the Thestrals shining in their dark dragon-like heads and necks, gave them a fearsome appearance, although she knew them to be gentle creatures.

On the practical side or stable management, the fact that they were the only equine species who were carnivores, would be an added factor in caring for the beasts that she wouldn’t want to deal with. Supplying her high maintenance Abraxans with single malt whiskey instead of water was problematic enough. Luckily, when her father started breeding them, he was canny enough to purchase a Scotch whisky distillery in Aberdeen, Scotland to ensure he has a steady source, plus it cut down his cost by selling any surplus.

The Thestrals breed, particularly the specimens bred by Arcturus were much sought after by other magical folks, especially after their grandfather (during his tenure as Hogwarts’) had donated a herd of his own personally bred Thestrals to the school. Hogwarts used them to pull the school carriages that traditionally took students from the school to Hogsmeade Train Station and back again. The Hogwarts herd lived peacefully within the Forbidden Forest and the carnivores found plenty of smaller creatures to hunt.

Avoiding Blackwood Hall where she feared she might run into Dorea or her mother Violetta, Cassie stomped down to the massive stable complex, in a white- rage. She was eager to go for a ride on her favourite Abraxan stallion, Aurelian, to blow off steam. She wished that Melisande McMillian (a third cousin to her Aunt Melania, and Cassie’s former lover) hadn’t chosen last week to break up with her. Ironically, Melisande’s reason for ending their relationship was that Cassiopeia was too involved in the Blackwood Park Horse Stud, which was true.

Her brother Pollux wasn’t really interested in the family passion of breeding flying horses and gladly left the management of the stable to Cassie, knowing it was an important part of their heritage. Just because he wasn’t keen on the horses didn’t mean that he didn’t care what happened to it. Thinking about her former special friend (as most of her family rather quaintly referred to Melisande and her previous lovers) she admitted that Mel did have a fair point. Cassie was enamoured by horses, she adored them, loved to ride them, loved the cute baby foals, and was fascinated by the animal husbandry. Trying to breed the finest specimens of their breed was a consuming passion for her, as it had been for her father, Cygnus.

It was a passion that often interfered with the relationship she had with Melisande who wanted to travel for at least the next year, possibly two. Mel was a botanist, interested in magical plants that grew in the Amazonian rainforests and had been wanting to return to collect information for the book on magical healing plants she was working on. Which was a problem since Cassie didn’t want to hand her stable manager duties over to someone else for such a long period of time. She’d suggested a compromise – three months in the Amazon and then back home for three months before heading back over to South America again. She’d thought it was a fair arrangement, but Mel said she had a deadline from her publishers and needed to spend a solid year doing research.

Cassie had reluctantly offered Mel could go on her trip alone because as much as she didn’t want to be without her lover for a whole year, she also wanted to be supportive of Mel’s work. She knew it was important to her and it was also important to their world. How could she stand in her way? Cassie rationalised that that one year wasn’t long for them to be apart.

Mel argued that she didn’t want to be separated from Cassie for a year and that if she really cared about her, then she wouldn’t want them to be apart for so long. Mel had maintained that Cassie could hire someone to manage the horses and theoretically that was true, but Blackwood Park Stud was in part successful because her father and now Cassie personally ran the business. She’d tried telling her that people wanted and expected to deal with a member of the influential and powerful Black family.

In the end, they’d gotten into a screaming match about Cassie’s family interfering with their relationship, her lover accusing her that her family meant more to her than Mel did. Cassie attempted to explain that there were obligations to being a part of the House of Black including her vow to her father that she would look after her mother as he lay dying. It was her duty and she never resented him making such a request. He’d come to understand some things since he’d foolishly tried to arrange a marriage between her and Lord Stoddard Withers. He knew, due to her sexual orientation and her often-stated lack of maternal feelings, that she would chafe against the confines of marriage and motherhood.

Cygnus had probably realised that her taking over the rein of their prestigious business would give her a legitimate purpose and discreet way of not having to live a life of misery. Cassie reckoned that by asking her to personally manage Blackwood Stud, it was his way of giving her tacit permission to pursue her alternate lifestyle with his blessing. Plus, she had to admit that with the unexpected death of her father, her mother Violetta had fallen apart. Wizards and witches tended to have a significantly longer life expectancy than muggles; between 130 to 150 years was the norm unless killed in an accident, war, or a duel. Her mother’s emotional collapse due to his unexpected death was completely understandable.

She owed her father, Cygnus and mother, Violette for their acceptance of her differences, even if it was a tacit wink, wink variety rather than coming out and calling a spade a spade or in this case, Cassie a lesbian. The rest of the family followed their lead, and the family took to referring to Mel and the handful of her previous lovers as her special friends, thereby coyly avoiding the true nature of their relationship. Cassie felt a degree of acceptance and love from her family that she knew most lesbian witches didn’t experience – homophobia being prevalent in the rather backward society. Even Mel was estranged from her family after she’d refused to be married off to a manky hook-nosed wizard with bad breath and bad personal hygiene for a massive dowry.

When she’d declared her sexual orientation as the reason why she wouldn’t marry Engelbart Rowle, Mel had been shunned by most of her family; Cassie’s cousin by marriage, Arcturus’s wife, Melania was one of the few who hadn’t cut her cousin Melisande dead. And Cassie knew that her lover relished the fact that Lady Melania Black continued to treat her as one of the family, although Mel in her ‘nothing affects me- I’m a tough tits witch’ persona claimed not to care about her family. And they had Melania to thank for them getting together, Cassie had met Melisande when she went visit her cousin’s wife for afternoon tea one day not long before her father first became ill. Although she had gone to Hogwarts with her, Melisande had been several years older and was in Ravenclaw, so they didn’t really socialise. Slytherins didn’t mix with students from the other houses.

Cassie could see how Mel didn’t fully appreciate how important her family and her obligations were to her and why she couldn’t just leave those duties for a whole year. She’d tried to suggest another compromise because she wanted to make Mel happy. She’d proposed taking a portkey over every couple of months since despite international portkeys being expensive, money wasn’t a barrier for Cassie. She could spend time with Mel and that would make the time they spent apart go faster but it hadn’t been enough. Her lover had accused her of putting the House of Black first and screamed that she wouldn’t put up with being relegated to second-best in their relationship, ending their liaison angrily. Nothing Cassie said would move her – they either went to the Amazon together or they were through.

As much as Cassie loved Melisande, she was also a Black by birthright and by choice, so as a strong-willed daughter of the House of Black she didn’t take well to emotional blackmail or ultimatums, even from her lover. She’d already been the one willing to make compromises because she loved Mel and wanted her to be happy but leaving her family responsibilities for a year, maybe longer would not make her happy – it would be a massive sacrifice. Ultimately, Cassie admitted to herself that she would probably end up resenting her lover for forcing her to go to South America and sit around twiddling her thumbs and that resentment would end up destroying their relationship, anyway. That being the case, with a mixture of reluctance and steely resolve she agreed that it was for the best that they end their love affair.

Afterwards, she’d collapsed in a heap, crying like a baby in her suite which up until then had been THEIR suite until Lottie, her house-elf had packed all Melisande’s belongings, and she departed from Blackwood Hall in high dudgeon. One thing to be said for magical breakups, they weren’t protracted since packing using charms was quite speedy. Even cumbersome or heavy furniture could be shrunk down and fit into a trunk.

After letting her wallow in a puddle of self-pity for several days, her little sister Dorea had marched into Cassie’s suite, and taken her in hand. Dory told her she’d done the right thing.

“Doesn’t Mel understand that magical horses bond to you and if you just pull up stakes and disappear for a year or more, the herd won’t breed?” she demanded fiercely.

They’d sat around all night drinking fire whiskey and some Merlin-awful muggle drink called vodka that looked like water but kicked like a dragon, requiring extra-strength sobering potions the next morning. Her sister had listened sympathetically, agreeing that Mel needed to compromise or else the relationship wasn’t one of true equals, and was doomed to fail.

Of course, Cassie thought that most marriages between wizards and witches or relationships between witches and their witches or wizards and wizards were based upon one individual being the dominant one and the other participant forced to be submissive. That said, Cassie and Dorea and some other pureblood witches wanted more than just marriage or in Cassie’s case, being able to marry someone of the same gender and they were agitating for change. Indeed, Cassie noted looking at her dark-haired sister baby sister, Dorea at 37 was long past the age when obedient witches married and produced the new generation of magical children (and added to the ever-growing number of squibs; something which was never talked about openly). Not that she was past childbearing age, she probably had at least another fifteen to twenty years to produce a bunch of little Blacks – just as technically, Cassie still had a little time to hatch a clutch too.

Not that Cassie felt remotely maternal, she’d never longed to be a mother, but she’d always assumed it was because she was attracted to witches, and that really ruled out procreation. Given her lesbian orientation, she was rather relieved that the Goddess Gaia hadn’t burdened her with a strong maternal nature. Since she had no intention of ever lying with a wizard or letting his wand anywhere near her, it would surely be cruelty beyond measure to long for a bunch of whiney, snot-nosed brats and not be able to have them.

Of course, some of her previous lovers had suggested that they could always adopt an orphan and in theory, she’d agreed that it was doable, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t something she felt impelled to do. If she were being honest, she would have to concede that her lack of enthusiasm had caused one or two of her previous relationship to end rather acrimoniously. This suggested that other lesbian witches, unlike Cassie, did have strong maternal instincts so it wasn’t because she was lesbian that Cassiopeia didn’t want children.

Which was what had made Mel such a perfect match for her – like Cassie, she had no interest in birthing mini witches and wizards. Cassie supposed that plants were her children. And yet despite that important point of compatibility, it seemed that they were both too invested in their work to stay together. She sniffled, dismally missing her already before trying to pull herself together.

Smiling through her tears she looked at her sister. “And what of you my dear sister. Why haven’t you married your dashing Charlus? You’ve been together for almost ten years. Don’t you want to get married and have little Doreas?”

“I have my reasons, Cass.”

The blonde curly haired Black, a throwback from her great grandmother rolled her eyes in mock exasperation at her sister’s evasiveness. “Well obviously you do, but what are they?”

Biting her lip, Dorea said, “Things are pretty good the way they are,” but it was obvious to her sister that she was prevaricating. Seeing her sister giving her the Black family glare Dory ended up caving, just as Cassie knew she would.

“And well Cass…Pollux has hinted that if we were to get married, Arcturus would cast me out of the family just like Cedrella was when she married Septimus Weasley.”

“But why would you care if he does?” Cassie demanded, mentally vowing to have a painful talk with her older but not necessarily wiser brother Pollux and to speak to her cousin, although as Arcturus was head of the House of Black, she would need to choose her words carefully.

“You love Charlus; anyone can see you were made for each other. You can’t let them stop you from living a long happy life and having lots of little Potters, Dory,” she lectured her sibling sternly.

Her sister stared at her before finally saying reluctantly. “No Cass, you’re right. I don’t care about being thrown out of the family…okay maybe I do a bit but if that were all it was, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Charlus is a good wizard, egalitarian and believes that witches should have the same rights as wizards. And yeah, I think he’d make an awesome dad,” she admitted ruefully.

“So, why don’t you tell Pollux and Arcturus to stick their wands up their arses?” Cassie demanded rather crudely.

Looking helpless, Dorea said, “Mother. She asked me to swear an oath that I wouldn’t get myself thrown out of the family by marrying Charlus.”

“Why would Mother ask you to sacrifice your happiness? She dotes on you,” and me, she admitted silently. “Why would she do something so cruel?” She said angrily.

“Marius,” Dory said briefly. “Disowning him nearly killed her and with Father gone, she begged me not to leave her too. You know she hasn’t seen Marius since he failed to get his Hogwarts letter, but she never stopped missing him,” she said sadly. “I think she suspects that you and I have kept in touch with him all this time but being an obedient daughter of the House of Black, even by marriage, she never disobeyed his disownment.”

Cassie was sure that Dorea was holding something back and she had a fairly good idea what it was. Her mother was probably worried that because Cassie was attracted to witches, she had concerns that Arcturus would cast her out too. Which was always a possibility she admitted wryly, depending upon who her lover was, but then, that was true of any of them. Plus, she knew that her mother had never truly gotten over the shame and social stigma of her son making her a grandmother when he was barely thirteen years old.

Hugging her sister hard she retorted. “Well, she still had no right to ask you to sacrifice your life, I’m so sorry, Dory,” she said fiercely. “I wish you’d told me what she was pressuring you to do, I would have tried to talk her round.”

Dory looked at her sister, her silvery grey eyes filled with unshed tears. “It’s okay, Cass. I understand why Mother did it. She hasn’t had an easy life, not just Marius and then Father dying so young and leaving her a widow. Pollux shamed the family – not just the Blacks but Mother’s Bulstrode side too, and while she dotes on her grandsons, Alphard and Cygnus and adores her great-granddaughters… well there is Walburga.”

“That bitch,” Cassie exclaimed furiously! “What’s she done to Mother?”

“Running her down to Bella – she seemed to be enamoured by her Aunt Wally,” Dory reported, smirking at her sister because they both knew how much their harridan of a niece hated that epithet.

“Bella told Mother that her Aunty Walburga told her she is a disgrace to the family with her all her mourning and attacks of the vapours and should get over herself; that Grandfather Cygnus would be disappointed in her.”

“What a bitch!” she spat vindictively. Wait until I give her a piece of my mind,” Cassie promised, and Dory gave an anticipatory shiver of dread.

Cassiopeia’s skill with her tongue enabling her to rip people shreds was legendary (and her language could be vulgar) her grace when furious was a scary thing to witness, let alone to be the one who was being subjected to it. With no soft sentimental feelings for their niece, Cassie would flay her alive, which was probably not the best thing to do to Walburga who Dorea had suspected for some time now, was quite mad. Certainly, she was not your normal average witch!

Still, Dorea was a true daughter of the House of Black; Slytherin to the core, so instead of appealing to the dormant maternal feelings of her sister where children were concerned, she appeared to change the subject.

“It concerns me a lot, my sister that young Bella seems so drawn to her Aunt Wally. What everyone seemed to be trying desperately hard not to say, our brother’s daughter has bats in the belfry, nutty as a fruitcake,” she stated quaintly. “So please tell me, why in Merlin’s saggy bullocks are Drucilla and Cygnus letting their first-born child spend so much time with her? It’s not healthy for little Bella to be around her,” Dorea stated primly.

Cassie snorted. “Dory, I think you mean that Walburga’s an insane evil bitch. Someone should have drowned her at birth as they do with defective kneazle kits,” she said dispassionately.

“Cassie,” her sister remonstrated. “How can you say that; she’s family!”

Rolling her eyes, she replied, “Because it happens to be the truth, Sissy,” she said, reverting to a pet name for her baby sister. “And to answer your other question about why Bella spends so much time with the Mad Bitch, have you ever considered the possibility of like attracting like. I suspect that Bella is probably as mad as her Aunt.”

Dorea looked crestfallen and Cassie surmised that her sister was thinking the same thing but didn’t want to, so had engineered the conversation around to see what her sister’s opinion was without influencing her opinion. How very Slytherin of her sister!

Wrapping her arm around Dory, she comforted her. Just because she didn’t go all gooey around babies and children didn’t mean she didn’t experience empathy for others. She just didn’t feel that young ones should be treated any differently from anyone else.

“I know you spent a lot of time looking after Cygnus’ girls, Sissy. But it seems increasingly obvious, at least to me that Bella is barmy and is only going to get worse, just like Walburga did.”

Nodding tearfully, Dorea said, “I fear that you are right about Bella, my sister. She seems increasingly to be showing signs of the Crabbe Family curse. No wonder our brother is so distracted,” she said compassionately. “Pity Pollux let himself get distracted by Irma’s charms,” she said with a touch of prudishness.

Cassie grunted in an unladylike way. “Pity our brother let himself get befuddled by her twat, don’t you mean?” she said coarsely. “Pity the slag let him stick his twelve-year-old wand into it and get her pregnant. Tell me, what self-respecting witch, lets a 12-year-old wizard fuck her, Dory?”

It was a discussion they’d had on more than one occasion. What was the fifth-year witch thinking, seducing a randy little second-year student and seriously, where were the staff and prefects? Pollux, like most twelve-year-old wizards, was curious about sex – would probably settle for dipping their wand in the well if a hippogriff presented them with an opportunity, Cassie had argued in her typically potty-mouthed vernacular. “Although Pollux was only twelve, he was still a Black and been brought up to have better control over his impulses.”

Dory surprised her by saying,” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Irma was hardly what you’d call a beauty, even back then. She has the Crabbe no-neck and the stolid build.”

Cassie sniggered, “What you’re trying to say so delicately, my Sissy is that Irma resembled a troll.”

“That is a little harsh, Cass; but she is hardly Aphrodite to be sure,” she agreed with a touch of the Black arrogance. “She’d probably tried to lose her virginity with wizards her own age and been rebuffed. Polly was likely not her first choice – she must have been desperate. Not that it excuses what she did.”

Her sister pursed her lips and considered. “Maybe, Dory or maybe she set out to trap herself a Black.”

“Seduction? That’s pretty pathetic. A twelve-year-old wizard? Are you suggesting that she deliberately got pregnant?”

“It’s possible she slipped him a love potion or more likely took a fertility potion. Seriously, how else would she manage to marry a wizard from the Sacred Twenty-Eight and one of the most revered and respected Ancient and Noble Houses, Dore? The Crabbe family are purebloods to be sure, but they are rather inconsequential in the wizarding hierarchy, even if she happened to look like a Greek Goddess, which she doesn’t. And granted that the Crabbes are said to have a dark curse plaguing them so who in their right mind would want to marry into that?”

Dorea looked appalled. “Oh, my Merlin, that’s sick! And now it looks as if she’s infected our line too. Do you think that little Andi and Baby Cissy are like Bella and Wally?”

“Fucking insane? No, I don’t. Bella has always been a bit odd and more than a little cruel. I caught her at the stables when she was tiny, trying to pull the feathers from the baby colts wings, Dory.”

Her sister looked simultaneously relieved and appalled by what her sister said. “Oh, my poor Maximus!”

“Your kneazle? What about him?” Cassie said sharply knowing that his death had deeply upset her little sister deeply.

“I may not have been completely honest about how he died,” she confessed uncomfortably, avoiding making eye contact with her blonde sibling.

You said he fell into the fountain and his long double-coat made him waterlogged and he drowned,” Cassie said sharply. “So, Dory, what really happened?”

“Maxie drowned but Bella said they were playing, and he got dirty. She didn’t want me to be mad, so she gave him a bath and he slipped out of her grasp. She was hysterical and of course, I believed her,” Dorea said in a monotone, her dark-haired locks obscuring her expression.

Snorting in disbelief, her older sister responded, “Slipped out of her grasp my arse, she was probably holding him under the water, the little monster.”

Starting to cry, Dorea said, “That would also explain all the deep scratches on her hands and arms, Cass. She told me that he was terrified and kept fighting to get out and scratched her.”

“Fighting to get away from her,” Cassie said cynically. “Oh Dorea, I’m so sorry. I wish you’d told me. I think we need to tell someone about what we suspect. Walburga is a nutjob but Bella scares me. I think she might be much worse than our dear brother’s daughter. I don’t remember Wally being this bad when she was seven. Maybe a mind healer can help her.”

Dorea nodded sombrely, “And maybe a mind healer could check on Andi and Cissy, too,” she said, referring to their four-year-old niece Andromeda and the pampered baby of the family, two-year-old Narcissa. “But who do we discuss this with? I don’t think Cygnus or Druella will want to hear what we are saying.”

Cassie nodded. “No doubt you’re right, Dory. I think we need to take this to the Head of the House.”

“Arcturus?” Dorea paled. She found her cousin to be rather intimidating. “Can’t we talk to Pollux?”

Cassie shook her head determinedly. “No, perhaps Arcturus can order Cygnus and Druella to consult a mind healer. I doubt that they’d listen to Pollux. Don’t worry, Sissy. Leave it with me. I don’t mind talking to our cousin. You can take tea with Melania. We’re going through a bit of an awkward patch since I broke up with Mel.”

So that’s what they did.

Chapter 3

After storming out of her uncle’s study in a state, leaving her sister Dory still making nice with their Arcturus’ wife Melania, Cassie had arrived back at the stables. It was a place that she considered to be her sanctuary. Looking at the pregnant mares all tucked up safely in their stalls waiting for the imminent arrival of their foals, she felt her tense muscles relax as her anger subsided a little. Enough for her to focus on her mental link with Aurélien aka Blackwood Aurélien Windswept to come to her. It was the quickest way of summoning the stallion because he was loose in the fields with the herd of Abraxan mares and foals.

It was a mere minute or so before she heard the rhythmic beat of hooves and she knew without looking that her favourite horse, Aurélien was approaching her. They’d always had a special bond, not exactly like familiars but close. He instinctively seemed to sense when she was feeling low and when she was needed to run with the wind or to go for a gentle flight. Today she was feeling the need to run, hard and fast, to escape from her life and responsibilities. She couldn’t help thinking if she’d just given up and agreed to go away with Mel she wouldn’t be in this impossible situation.

Aurélien nuzzled her with his velvety nose before giving her a not so gentle shove. Laughing, she nodded in agreement. Vaulting athletically onto Aurélien bareback she wrapped her arms around his great neck. She knew that she could use a sticking charm to keep from falling off the massive stallion, but Cassie loved to live life on the edge, especially when she was feeling boxed in.

Murmuring softly, “Let’s go, Boy,” she squeezed her thigh muscles, communicating her desire to take flight.

The Abraxan responded to his mistress, cantering hard to build up speed, rapidly working up to a heart-pumping gallop. He spread out his impressive wingspan as they rose in the air, soaring swiftly as he wisely avoided crashing into the trees of Blackwood Forrest where his progeny and mares grazed below them. As they gained ever-increasing altitude, the magnificent beast sought out and used the thermal currents to rise up before diving down towards the earth as Cassie shrieked euphorically before Aurélien began to make a circuit of the Blackwood Park estate.

Using her powerful thighs to guide the stallion, Cassie couldn’t help thinking how she’d always thought that the only male who’d be ridden by her was Aurélien, but that was before today. Everything had changed after talking with her cousin and the Head of the House of Black. Pushing unpleasant thoughts away and wishing that Melisande were here for her to talk with, the gifted horsewoman detected a change in the air around her. Spying the awesome visage of a golden Aethonon, a Blackwood- bred mare, she belonged to Dorea who called her Oriana, she exchanged a wild grin with her sister that essentially was a challenge.

Dorea correctly interpreted it as a catch-me-if-you-can dare, grinned maniacally, and urged her mare to go faster. The winged horses began a game of tag as they flew in circuits around the property’s perimeter, which though large by any independent standards wasn’t really a test of the powerful creatures’ abilities. Dorea with a grin, cast a powerful Disillusionment Charm on the two horses and their riders so no muggles would be able to see them and whooped wildly, “Race you to the coast,” before flying off.

Cassie yelled at her younger sister, “Not fair, Dore. I wasn’t ready,” although the truth was that her magnificent palomino stallion was bigger and stronger than the lithe more finely built mare.

Over the five furlongs or so she should easily be able to make up Dory’s unfair, but equally very Slytherin-like head start. Totally focus on catching up to her sister, she forgot about her moral dilemma and urged Aurélien to go faster. The stallion was in full agreement with his mistress, intent on chasing down the smaller more finely built mare who was using her more athletic physique to cut aerodynamically through the distance they needed to cover to reach the coastline. Over longer distances, his impressive musculature, deep chest and larger heart and lungs would gain the advantage. He was simply stronger than the chestnut mare but given her head start it remained to be seen if the distance was enough to turn the race around with his massive reserves of strength.

For a while, it seemed as if time stood still as both witches urged their mounts to go faster, higher. Dorea continued to maintain her lead but as the furlongs were eaten up by the flying horses, it diminished steadily. Cassie knew that Aurélien would eventually outfly her but given her sister sneakiness, she wasn’t certain that they had enough time left to overhaul her. She had to admit with a sense of proprietary admiration that the chestnut (one of the first foals she bred after taking of the horse stud from her father) was an impressive beast. Her smaller build made her adept at flying in more confined spaces than the Abraxan were less suited to, although she would never swap Aurélien for the world. Like Oriana, Aurélien had been one of the first horses she’d bred after her father died and the first Abraxan. Even without their almost symbiotic bond, Aurélien held a special place in her heart since they were a highly sentient breed and refused to procreate unless they were feeling safe and secure.

When Cygnus died, the Abraxan and Aethonon herds had grieved mightily for him. The Granians were yet to arrive at Blackwood Stud – it was Cassie who’d introduced them when she took over the management of the herd. For many months, the two herds languished while Cassie felt like she was failing her father as no new foals were born. Some of the herd wandered away, and it was Dory who urged her not to give up, to hang in there and earn their trust – that she would prevail. And Cassie was right!

Finally, one of the younger broodmares less bonded to Cygnus had gotten with foal, somehow persuading the then stallion Blagden (aka Blackwood Blagden Might) to mate. Aurélien was the result of the pairing and slowly the other mares’ fertility returned and Blagden and Helios (the lead stallion of the Aethonon herd began to service their respective mares. Oriana was born approximately four full moons after Aurélien and Dory had fallen in love with the spindly-legged little golden-chestnut filly-foal.

The rest was history as they say. Gradually the herd returned to normal as their bond developed with their new mistress, although a few of the older Abraxan broodmares and their stallion Blagden never fully bonded with her. By the time that Aurélien was sexually and physically mature and able to take over stud services from his sire, the proud stallion and his three favourite mares departed the herd, although they remained on the Cygnus’ estate, settling in a picturesque glen that Cassie and Dorea’s squib brother Marius has named Blakes Folly, for reasons known only to the young boy.

Blakes Folly had a sparkling clear brook, fed by an underground spring and an abundance of pasture grasses and herbaceous plants that provided them with an idyllic retirement. And of course, Cassie, sometimes accompanied by Dorea or their nephews, Alphard and Cygnus come to visit them regularly, bring tart wild apples or carrots as treats. They would groom and pet the Abraxans, vigilant for signs of injuries such as lameness or illness. Though they still missed her father deeply, as she did too, they seemed perfectly content to live out their days peacefully here on Blackwood Park land.

Smiling as she remembered the struggle, now long behind her to bond with the two herds, she soon began to smell the salty air of the coastline and groaned. Like any self-respecting Black. Cassiopeia was intensely competitive, and she hated to lose. But with the coastline rushing towards them and Oriana and her mistress still with a significant gap, she urged Aurélien forward, hoping he’d left a little in reserve. Leaning low on her mount, try to avoid creating resistance, she felt herself melding with her horse in a way she knew she never would with a wizard, not being wired that way. As Dory urged Oriana to claim the sand stretch of beach, checking that the Disillusionment Charm was still working, she grinned at her sister as Aurélien landed literally a nose length behind her. Slipping to the ground a fraction before Cassie she sprinted for the rock that from their childhood had become by mutual assent the finishing line of their many races.

As Cassie joined her, they watched the stallion and mare venturing down into the surf to play and wash the sweat off their bodies. Panting with pent up excitement, the rushing in their blood and pounding in their ears’ that muggles would have recognised as adrenaline, Cassie tried to adopt a stern visage.

“Not a fair race, Dorea Violetta Black,” she said, aiming to sound stern and ending up not being terribly successful since there was a measure of a whiney tone.

Giggling uncontrollably, Dorea smirked, “As would any true Slytherin, Cass. Don’t you dare try to tell me that if the dragonhide boot was on the other foot, you wouldn’t have done the same thing, Miss I Hate Losing.”

And although Cassie was a sore loser, like all the Blacks before her, she really couldn’t argue with that logic – she would have tried to get a head start on Dory if she’d thought about it. Plus, it was a typical Slytherin tactic so how could she object. Joining her sister in laughter, she watched the horses as they left the sea to roll around on the sand, the crystalline silica scratching all the places that were difficult to reach with their muzzles or teeth.

After chatting about inconsequential things for about twenty minutes, Dorea looked at her sister seriously and asked, “What did Cousin Arcturus say to you that made you so upset that you stormed off without me, Cass. Didn’t he believe you about Bella?”

Stiffening up immediately, Cassiopeia said, “On the contrary, he’d noticed her signs of insanity too and tried to talk to Pollux about it, but our brother wouldn’t have a bar of it, Dore.”

“Well, that’s not good news but it isn’t exactly unexpected, either. So, what DID Arcturus say that got you all riled up?”

“He told me unless we do something soon, within the next couple of generations the Ancient and Noble House of Black, one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight is facing line extinction,” Cassie told her sister sombrely but managing to evade answering the question.

Dorea stared dumbstruck at her sister trying to determine if Cassie was making a joke. Granted it was one in terrible taste if that was her plan but staring at her distraught expression and her stiff body posture, she didn’t think it was a possibility. And yet the thought that their family could be facing line extinction – the Ancient and Noble House of Black who could trace their roots back to medieval times – was unthinkable.

She couldn’t help scolding her impulsively because even though the thought that her own sister would joke about such a serious topic was nothing short of appalling, it was still one hundred times better than the thought that it might be true. Oh, Merlin, help them!

“If this is some sort of sick joke, Cassiopeia Leah Black, I will curse you with a hairy chin and an anti- hair removal charm so that the only way you’ll remove them is to pluck each one out individually,” she vowed harshly.

Scowling, Cassie snapped at her, “Do I look like I’m joking, little sister?” Why else do you think I would forget the years of etiquette lessons and storm out of Cousin Arcturus’ house.”

Of course, it was the truth… maybe just not the whole truth, as Dory well knew, being her sister’s strongest ally for their whole life, despite the five-year gap in their ages. Perhaps Cass had told her the good news, or maybe she’d chosen to share the least bad news because there was nothing remotely good about the family facing line extinction. Perhaps Cassie just wasn’t ready to tell her the really bad news, and that which filled Dorea with dread since the sisters discussed EVERYTHING.

The dark-haired sister felt confident that Cassie would divulge whatever she was holding back from her sooner or later. After all, the sisters had been each other’s staunchest supporter and close confidant their whole lives – who else would Cass go to?

She was the one Cassie had turned to when her big sister realised that she was attracted to other witches, telling Dorea she felt giddy, tingly and like a swarm of dragonflies had taken up residence in her stomach when she was around them. Paradoxically, kisses and being touched, even intimately by wizard schoolmates and eligible single wizards (who her father introduced her to with the view to a betrothal) left her feeling nothing but cringy. It was Dorea, who with the naivety of a then quite young schoolgirl who’d pointed out that they’d seen young colts and fillies at Blackwood Hall approaching sexual awakening who hung out with their own kind, colts mounting other colts and fillies mounting fillies, clearly preferring mates of their own gender. She’d reasoned that if it happened in nature then it was perfectly natural and there was nothing wrong with Cassie, she was just different but different was good too.

Cassie said she was relieved that her sister didn’t think she was sick or unnatural. However, although she admitted that they did see a small number of foals approaching sexual maturation who preferred a mate of their own sex, at least for the colts, they usually ended up being gelded and the fillies were destined to become broodmares, despite their natural preferences.

“Geldings ended up being bought by wizards and witches who wanted their own flying horse for riding or to pull carriages, Dory. I don’t want to be a metaphoric gelding or someone’s broodmare. I want to live my own life, preferably with my lover – if I ever find one.

Dorea had hugged her tightly, “I know you do, Snow White. And one day you’ll find your Princess Charming and live happily ever after.

Cassie laughed, “And you Rose Red will marry Princess Charming’s handsome younger brother and live happily ever after too.”

Both chuckled, remembering the old muggle book of fairy tales that had somehow been left in the family library. Their mum Violetta used to read it to them when they were small, explaining that the Grimm brothers who put the tale down on paper and others besides were wizards. Muggles didn’t realise it wasn’t a fairy tale but a true story about wizards and witches and a rogue goblin. Of all the stories in that book, that was their favourite, because the two sisters in the story physically resembled them – Snow White has blonde hair and Rose-Red has raven-haired and the two sisters in the story were devoted to each other and their mother, just like they are.

Cassie was grateful that her younger sister, Dorea had continued to support her as she gained the courage to act upon her orientation towards other witches. As she matured, Dory also began to act as a go-between for her big sister and her infatuations to see if the witches she was attracted to, felt the same way about Cassie and cheering her on if she decided to take a risk and go for it. She was also there, holding her hand if the romance fell apart. Every lesbian witch should have a sister as supportive as her baby sister.

Focusing on the distressing subject of line extinction, Dorea demanded to know what proof Arcturus had to arrive at such an outrageous assertion. She wanted to scrutinise his evidence to decide if he was making a mountain out of a molehill. Holding a Mastery in Experimental Potions, studying under the mentorship of Billius Boome, a world-renowned catalytic potion maker, Dorea was used to routinely examining evidence to determine outcomes. Her specialty had taught her to be sceptical – to examine information dispassionately, so she tried to quash her horror and dread, focusing on the facts, or at least the facts according to Arcturus. Funny thing about facts – they were supposed to be incontrovertible, but most people tended to confuse facts with opinions, biased supposition, and sometimes outright fantasy, lies and misinformation. Hence her determination to look at why Arcturus would make such an extreme claim and then assess it on its merits.

Cassie groaned, no doubt because she knew that her younger sister was never one to accept things on face value or because someone in authority said so. Normally she seemed to be proud of her sister’s sceptical nature, her insistence on verifying things for herself but Dorea figured today she was too distraught over whatever harebrained scheme their cousin had come up with. And it was clear to Dorea that he would have some fix-it in mind.

One thing the younger Black sister had learnt over the years, working in a highly male dominated workplace, males tended to see themselves as problem solvers. Not that there was anything wrong with problem-solving per se, but to be effective, it was first crucial to understand the problem you were trying to fix.  For example, trying to come up with a counter charm to fix the colour of your pet kneazle because you think someone changed their colour with a Glamour Charm as a prank when the magical feline had managed to roll in a substance such as flour or saffron, would be a waste of effort and resources. An application of water or a simple Scourify Charm, known to even a first-year student would be all that was required to satisfactorily resolve the situation.

It should be obvious, however, in her field which tended to be dominated by wizards she often found this type of woolly-head thinking; a tendency to overthink issues, to make things more complicated than they needed to be. Perhaps it was an unconscious desire to be seen as the solver of some super complex difficult/dangerous problem and the most intelligent and powerful wizard/witch in the room. Sometimes she found herself doing the same thing, especially early on in her tenure in the Department of Mysteries where she worked as an Unspeakable.

Not long after being hired and anxious to impress, her potion making wasn’t working out. Saul Croaker, the current head of the DOM had found her in a state of intellectual agitation, as he’d described it diplomatically when he’d found her stomping around her office one day. The famous Black temper was in full evidence as she took it out on inanimate and utterly innocent articles that happened to be at hand. Quick to offer her his assistance, Dorea had explained that her potion she was trying to create to counteract the effects of certain alkaloid plants wasn’t working as she’d hoped.

Croaker had nodded sympathetically, asking her to list the reasons why she thought it wasn’t doing what she had expected, only for her to throw up her arms in frustrated defeat. She then went on to show him the parchment, several-foot-long list all the possible reasons why the potion didn’t work. Trying not to laugh in the face of her exasperation, Croaker had gently begun to tell her about the law of parsimony also known in the Department of Mysteries as Novacula Occami. He said it was a principle in problem-solving that cautioned that “entities should not be multiplied without necessity.”

Seeing her confused expression, he chuckled gently before expounding. “It means that the simplest explanation is often the right one. Try eliminating the most obvious and common causes of why potions generally fail – rule those factors out first before proceeding to investigate the more complex or bizarre ones,” he said, his eyes falling to the second to last one on the list, suspecting one of her colleagues, Primrose Parkinson of sabotaging her work with a smirk.

The head unspeakable had explained that the idea for Novacula Occami was attributed to a muggle, an English-born scholar, a philosopher, and theologian who lived from approximately 1287 – 1347. A Franciscan friar, he’d reasoned that when presented with competing hypotheses about the same prediction, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions. When Dorea had attempted to argue, Croaker had explained that Novacula Occami (also referred to as lex parsimoniae) wasn’t intended to be a way of choosing between hypotheses that make different predictions. Sceptical initially, perhaps wanting to cling to some internecine explanation about her fellow Slytherin, Primrose (who was superficially cordial and her intellectual inferior) had sabotaged her work, it was with a great deal of chagrin she’d figured out the cause of the failed potion. Dorea’s cauldron had been contaminated before she started the potion.

Not due to any malicious acts of sabotage by Parkinson but because she’d been in too much of a hurry to get started and failed to give it thorough decontamination before using it. It was an embarrassing lesson for someone of her skills to have to learn and she never forgot it.

Over time, the more that Black used the lex parsimoniae heuristic during her experimental endeavours, the more she found it a useful rule of thumb. Rule out all the most obvious possibilities before moving on to the more complex or fantastic ones.

It surprised her initially that a muggle had come up with such a useful aid that applied to experimental potions before berating herself for being so bigoted. She knew that muggles were smart too from her exposure to the muggle world, via her brother Marius who was a Squib and had made a life for himself in the muggle world. Her Uncle Nigellus and his friends and allies like Henry Potter and his tall handsome nephew, Charlus, had also helped to educate her that muggles were incredibly resourceful. That they often found ways to overcome their lack of magic that rivalled or even surpassed magical society. Nevertheless, she thought it extremely impressive that back in the thirteenth century a friar had come up with what muggles referred to as Occam’s razor (after William of Ockham) and that it was still widely used by scientists and academics six centuries on. It demonstrated their ingenuity.

Which was all true but Dorea gave herself a mental shake. She was supposed to be analysing the data that Arcturus had used to arrive at his seemingly credible hypothesis that the Ancient and Noble House of Black (and one of Britain’s Sacred Twenty-Eight Families) was teetering on the brink of potential line extinction. She needed to understand why he believed such a bizarre idea and although she needed to be mindful of the rule of parsimony, a ramble through the merits of muggle technological achievements or Primrose Parkinson and Dorea’s petty rivalry with her was an indulgence she couldn’t afford right now.

Besides, it was clear as crystal to the experimental potions master that the line extinction per se wasn’t what had really rattled her sister. She couldn’t see that it would have disturbed her enough for her to have ditched protocols and etiquette that had been instilled in them since birth and gone racing out of a meeting with their Head of House without proper farewells or polite chitchat with Melania.

Such a momentous breach of protocol would have been caused by something earthshattering which Arcturus had shared with her older sister. Merlin knew, Cassiopeia Black wasn’t a witch who was easily shocked and even if she had been, decades of inculturation and socialisation would have normally eclipsed her impulse to run. In the House of Black, decorum, propriety and dignity were synonymous with the Black values. Their family viewed impulsivity and emotional displays with distaste – judging them to be a sign of weakness. Not surprisingly, they eschewed displays of anger, grief, self-doubt, dissension, sadness, and despair as being ill-bred and beneath them. Even if Cassie and Dorea didn’t necessarily ascribe to any or all those principles personally, as members of the House of Black they were bound by them, nonetheless.

Perhaps the most curious thing was that Melania had given Dorea a very knowing look when Cassie had gone racing out of the Arcturus’ office, ignoring Melania, other than a fleetingly anguished look. So, Melania had known about whatever it was Arcturus was speaking to her sister about and seemed empathetic if a little uncomfortable. Certainly, she hadn’t appeared to be offended by the lack of respect as you would expect, given Cassie’s major snubbing of Lady Black. On the contrary, she had begged Dorea to follow her sister and make sure she didn’t do anything too foolhardy.

Yes, there was something earthshattering that had taken place that afternoon between Cassie and their cousin and Dorea intended to discover what it was. How else could she go about finding a way to deal with it unless she knew what the threat entailed? It was with a dash of vexation she recognised that it wasn’t only wizards who had an inherent drive to solve problems. Dorea believed whatever viciousness fate threw at you, the best way to combat it was with measured and carefully considered actions and once a path was determined, using courage to see it through. She was confident that whatever it was that had the unflappable Cassiopeia Black in such a state, treating it logically and with a clear head and courage of the heart would get them through any impending storm. At least she hoped so.

Hence, she made a conscious choice to focus on the task, switching from protective little sister mode to dispassionate experimental potions master and protégé of Saul Croaker head of the Department of Mysteries. Dorea Black skewered her sister with a glare that was designed to get her to concentrate on giving her the data she needed to come up with a strategy to deal with this so far unspeakable dilemma and tackle it head-on.

Remain calm and focused.

Chapter 4

Cassie stared at her sister, who had a slightly vacant look in her eyes. She’d explained that Arcturus had announced his fear that the House of Black was facing line extinction and noted how Dorea had been visibly shocked. Then in her typical Dory fashion, she was demanding to know on what basis their cousin and Head of the House of Black was making such an outlandish claim. Trying to settle her tumultuous emotions, the blonde Black sighed as she tried to recall all the salient points. Halfway through her explanation, she realised that her sister wasn’t listening.

Gently elbowing her sibling as they sat on the verdant piece of ground overlooking the beach, she said, “So he said that our centaur blood has overwhelmed our magic blood and that’s the line is doomed to fail.”

Dorea, having been jolted by her sister’s sharp pointy elbow – even though it had been applied with care, looked at her sister as if she had two heads. “WHAT? That’s utter rubbish, Cass. Is he right in the head? Perhaps we need a mind healer to assess his mental fitness,” she stated looking concerned.

Rolling her eyes in a way that would be inappropriate with any other family member, Cassie began to laugh. “I was just pulling your leg, my sister. I’ve been talking for a good ten minutes or so and I doubt that you heard a word I said.”

Looking somewhat guilty the dark-haired sister laughed sheepishly, “Sorry. I might have drifted off. Think of it as a practise run, can you go through it again. Promise I’ll stay focused this time. It’s just that it’s not something you expect to hear,” she said apologetically.

Huffing in exasperation, her sister spoke slowly. “Arcturus said that he’d been studying the Black family tree, starting from the mid-1600s and that the average life expectancy of the Black family members was one hundred and twenty-seven years old.”

Dorea nodded. “True enough I’d imagine, although it wasn’t unheard of for one or two to make it past one hundred and fifty, that would have evened out with witches dying in childbirth or infant mortality. The average would take all the outliers into account and so one hundred and twenty-seven, although it sounds like a low figure is probably correct,” she confirmed a little impatiently. “But that hardly amounts to line extinction, Cass,” she said with a touch of derision.

Her sister looked at the winged mare and stallion who had gone back down to the sea and were cantering through the foam, flirting, although she knew that Aurélien would never mate with the Aethonon mare. It would violate the détente between himself and the leader of the Aethonon herd Cyrus and led to poaching of Aurélien’s favourite mares and equine anarchy. It was one reason why, unlike nonmagical horses, they had very few breeds. Occasionally in the wilds, loners paired up and formed a new herd that over time might lead to interbreeding, creating a new type, but that was rare. Magical horses tended to stick to their own types, although interestingly, they weren’t so clannish when it came to mating with any no-magical terrestrial-bound horses who’d escaped and were living wild.

Recasting the disillusionment charm so that if there were muggles nearby, they couldn’t see Aurélien and Oriana’s magnificent wings, just two ‘normal’ horses, she flashed an irritated glance at her sister.

“Arcturus knows that too. He explained about averages, even though I already knew it. But it’s the last three generations that have him spooked.  The average life expectancy of our great-great-grandfather Orion Regulus’ generation which included his brothers Archer, Pollux, Cygnus and his two sisters, Lyra and Andromeda were ninety-two years. “

Dorea leapt in before Cassie took a breath. “I’ll grant you that a drop in the average life expectancy of some twenty-five-plus years is alarming but there could be a perfectly good explanation for that.”

Glaring at her sister fiercely she said, “I’m aware of that, thank you very much, Potions’ Master Black. As so is our cousin. So please just shut your mouth and listen to the whole story before you start looking for explanations,” she scolded her younger and sometimes annoying little sister.

Looking chastened at having drawn her sister’s ire Dorea nodded. “Fine, I’ll listen,” she said, miming sewing her lip shut which earned her an odd look from her sister.

Cassie continued, “Yes, well in our grandfather Phineas Nigellus Black’s generation Sirius died when he was eight, Phineas was 78 years old, Eliadora was 81 years old and our great Aunt Iola married a muggle wizard, so we don’t know about her age at death (at least not officially). But the Blacks who weren’t disowned only averaged 55 years, Dorea. Even in muggle families, it is low – something you would expect to see in a working-class family, certainly not in a pureblood wizarding family such as ours.”

Seeing her sister was preparing to say something she hurried on. “Yes, we are aware that Sirius’ death as a child would have brought the average down. Then there is our father’s generation and granted, only Uncle Sirius and Father are deceased, he can’t really draw any data from their generation yet.”

Looking sombre she observed, “But Arcturus is genuinely concerned. Sirius was 75 which is young for a wizard, but Father was just 54 when he passed,” she said sadly, and Dory nodded.

“If you compare those alarming averages with our great-great grandfather’s generation Rigel was 131 years old, Regulus was 119 years old, my name-sake Cassiopeia lived to see 143 years and Arcturus managed to see out 147 years. All in all, the average age of that generation was 134 years.”

Cassie paused and nodded. “Alright Dory, I know you’re bursting at the seams. Let’s have it.”

Looking shaken. She said, “Well, those averages aren’t too encouraging, I have to concede, although there has to be something causing it. What does our cousin think is responsible for this decline in our resilience?”

Cassie considered the question, biting at her lip as she thought. “Muggles.”

Dorea looked outraged. “Oh, please tell me our cousin and the Head of the House of Black doesn’t subscribe to the bigoted imbecilic and terribly cliched theory that muggles obtain magic by stealing it off purebloods?”

Looking nonplussed at her outburst, Cassie said, “Not exactly. He blames Iola Black for putting herself before her duty to the family and marrying a muggle. He blames Phineas for getting involved in Muggle rights and blames Cedrella for betraying her family and marrying Septimius Weasley, a muggle-loving blood traitor.”

“That’s crazy.  I suppose he blames Marius because he’s a squib and got disowned?” Dorea snapped furiously.

Cassie laughed ironically, “No but he does blame the threat of line extinction on the fact that many of the Blacks fail to do their duty and reproduce,” she said looking uncomfortable.

“You mean like you and me?”

“And Great Aunt Eliadora whose chief claim to fame is the dubious one of starting the family tradition of beheading house-elves when they got too old to carry tea trays,” she said dryly. And don’t forget Cousins Regulus and Lycoris who have failed to marry and have children,” she said dryly. “Plus, Lucretia is yet to produce a baby with Ignatius either,” she said sympathetically.

Although Cassiopeia had made no secret of her lack of maternal feelings as Dorea knew, her sister was a kind witch who was able to empathise with someone who desperately wanted to have a child and couldn’t. She was also fabulous with kids as an aunty but just never wanted to have any of her own. She often joked that all the foals who were born at Blackwood Park Stud were her babies and Dorea thought there was a degree of truth mixed in with her joking.

“Anything else?” Dorea huffed because despite what she’d told her sister, Dorea had frequently felt the tug of wanting her own little wizards and witches but she couldn’t because of her vow to her mother and her family’s bigoted pureblood agenda. To hear that even with her sacrifice of marital bliss, Arcturus was putting some of the blame on her for the family facing a potential extinction of the Black Family line was…infuriating and disheartening.

Shrugging, her sister looked at the two horses nuzzling each other playfully. “Arcturus reckons that too many other pureblood families marrying into the House of Black in the last few generations has diluted our potency,” she said, parroting their cousin as she listed them off. There’s the Flint, Gamp, Bulstrode, Burke, Yaxley, McMillian, Crabbe, Longbottom and Crouch families.” She flashed a look at her sister who was rolling her eyes.

“That might not be so ridiculous as it sounds, at least in theory, Dory,” she told her. “If we were talking about the Abraxan herd, I wouldn’t be introducing so many different lines into the herd. I’d try to use Aurélien or other stallions who are closely related, such as his grandsons.”

Dorea nodded, she knew that the horse breeders used a combination of outcrosses to maintain diversity and linebreeding, which was a fancy way of saying the breeding of close relatives to lock in desirable traits. Even so, this wasn’t about horse breeding.

Cassie looked grim. “It’s hard to argue, at least when it comes to the Crabbes. If Bella turns out to be anything like Walburga, then there are two Black who should never procreate for the sake of not just the House of Black but of all the magical world. The risk of perpetuating their insanity is just too high, even if they had wizards who were deluded enough to want to marry them.”

She noted the weird look on her sister’s face before she agreed, “Yes, with that damn Crabbe curse they could still pass it on to any daughters they had. If they had sons, they would still carry the curse even if they were still sane.” she observed worriedly. “The risk to the magical world is too great.”

Suddenly Dorea got a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. “Please don’t tell me that Arcturus’ solution is to line breed?” she said, carefully avoiding the word inbreeding. That would explain the magical horse breeder’s abhorrence – the Blacks weren’t animals who could be bred to their father, mother, or sibling. “Is he seriously suggesting that Lycoris and Regulus should procreate – that is totally deranged.”

“According to Arcturus, Lycoris has been examined by a fertility healer and declared incapable of bearing children,” Cassie said uncomfortably.

Dorea nodded, empathetically. “She must never have started her moon times; Mother mentioned once that she was a late starter, but I didn’t realise that it was an ongoing issue. I wonder if that’s why she never married?”

Equally as uncomfortable, Cassie looked out to the distant horizon. “Perhaps. She was always so obsessed with getting married when we were growing up. She had all the details of her wedding planned to the last minutiae – used to drive us all batty.

There was an age difference of sixteen years between Dora and her cousin, so she really didn’t recall Lycoris as a teenager – she always seemed to be so adult when she was a kid. Cassie who was eleven years Lycoris’ junior, had memories of their cousin as a wizard-crazy teenager. What a terribly tragic thing for her beautiful cousin to have to bear. She wondered though if there was anything that muggle healers could do to help her? Given that witches were sometimes still able to bear children into their mid-sixties, at fifty-three, if her fertility issues could be overcome, she might still be able to have a child.

Still, was it cruel to suggest it, especially since Arcturus was likely to have a hippogriff and forbid her from seeking help from Muggle healers. Perhaps she would talk to Charlus about it the next time she visited him.

Suddenly, the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach got dramatically worse. If Arcturus wasn’t thinking of Lycoris that just left three possible Black witches: Cassie, Walburga and Dorea herself.

“Oh, Merlin’s beard, please tell me that he’s not proposing that Walburga should have a child with Regulus. It would be a disaster.

“Trust me, he’s well aware of that, Dory. He knows the risk is too great but there’s a problem – a massive one. In the last few months, it seems that Walburga and her mother have got it into their heads that they want her to produce the next House of Black heir, and for that to happen she would need to marry Orion. And as you know, marrying a cousin is permissible in British magical and muggle law,” she told her sister who was looking appalled.

“Somehow, she and Irma convinced Orion that they’d create an extremely strong magical heir due to their shared Black Family blood, having Great Grandfather Phineas and Great Grandmother Ursula Black as their grandparents which would dilute the blood effect of the non-Black families. Not sure how they did it, but Pollux and Orion seemed to be persuaded that it’s a brilliant idea.

“Orion isn’t exactly Witch Weekly’s Most Eligible Bachelor of the month, despite him being Arcturus’ heir. Witches aren’t falling over each other to marry him. There’s something creepy and dark about him,” Dorea said bluntly.

“Brutal but truthful, Dory. Arcturus has a dark and dangerous air about him – a fuck with me and you’ll regret it side, but he is also charismatic and powerful. All of that is sexy. Orion just comes across as a bit of a weasel,” her sister said, with equal frankness.

“Well, Arcturus needs to put his foot down as the Head of the House of Black. Forbid the union. Apart from the other concerns about line extinction, if Orion and Walburga beget an heir it will be the final coffin nail in the Black Family. Let’s face it, while Orion isn’t the sharpest sword in the scabbard, the Crabbe intellectual capacity isn’t awe-inspiring -it just screams dullard thuggish henchman. No one will respect or fear such a head of the House of Black.”

“It’s complicated, Dory. With both Pollux and Orion keen on the union – if only because they are both enamoured with the idea of breeding an heir so closely related to the illustrious Phineas Nigellus Black – Arcturus is worried. He feels that it could irrevocably fracture the family alliance if he forbids them marrying.”

Dorea leapt in furiously, “Bugger them and their ambitions. He is the bloody head of the family, Cass.”

“He knows that, but he fears that if he does forbid them, Orion and Walburga might defy him and elope. He would have no choice but to disown them.”

“And disowning them would further weaken the family according to Arcturus’ own analysis,” Dorea said, comprehension dawning on her classical features.”

“Um in terms of blood, that’s rather debatable. Orion is no match for Arcturus, Uncle Sirius, or Grandfather Phineas and Walburga is crazy as a horntail dragon whose eats her own eggs. But it isn’t just about blood.”

“No, but there are appearances to be considered too. If our rivals were to discover the true degree of our niece’s insanity it would be a devastating blow to our reputation. It could make us vulnerable to attack by one of the other Sacred Twenty-Eight who is also an Ancient and Noble House.”

“And Arcturus is worried that somewhere down the track we may face a time of upheaval that could lead to a blood war. The last thing he wants is to look like he’s lost control over his own house.”

“So, what does our dear cousin suggest, since he knows that the proposed union would be a disaster?” she felt faintly ill at the thought of Walburga procreating.”

“Arcturus has a typically Slytherin solution to this farrago. He does agree that having an heir who shares half of his blood with Grandfather Black and Grandmother Flint is a far from stupid one. However, he thinks that the other blood half should consist of two of the stronger and long-lived Ancient and Noble Houses. Not the McMillian’s and obviously not Crabbe blood.”

She stole a brief glance at her companion. “I happen to agree about the Crabbes were a huge mistake and I think that he might be blaming the McMillan blood for Lucretia and Regulus’ failure to bear children,” the blonde witch revealed with a shrug. “Personally though, I think that is a stretch.”

“And what does Arcturus’ preferred minor blood consist of?” Dorea inquired even though she had a fair idea already.

“Gamp and Bulstrode,” she said tersely, confirming Dorea’s worst suspicions.

“Oh, Merlin’s saggy arse, Cass! He wants you and Regulus to bear a child?” Dorea asked incredulously. “And then what? If it’s a wizard, he’ll declare it his heir? Like that’s not going to fracture the family. And what if the baby’s a girl?”

“No, Regulus has been told he is dying. Some sort of wasting disease. It is doubtful that he could sire a child.”

Dorea looked stricken. “Poor Reg. It kind of confirms Arcturus’ theory doesn’t it.”

Cassie nodded, “I’ve always had a soft spot for Cousin Regulus. He’s excellent with the horses.”

“So… what Slytherinish plan has Arcturus come up with?” Dory demanded, returning to the main topic.

“He intends to let Orion and Walburga marry but make sure that they don’t breed, plant a false memory that they are expecting a child and then pull off a sort of changeling conspiracy and plant a false memory that the baby is theirs. Arcturus is a skilled Legilimens as you know.”

Dorea nodded. “And the baby?”

Cassie smiled bleakly at her sister. “And you got the pedigree half right, Sissy. He wants me to bear the new Black heir, but Arcturus wants to sire the child, the heir himself. He says it is our last best hope to save the family from line extinction,” she said trying to sound analytical as if the idea of lying with a wizard and bearing his child didn’t fill her with absolute revulsion.

Dorea, despite being an Unspeakable, trained to be coolly and calmly analytical and not to react emotionally, couldn’t help but react emotionally. “How can he ask you to do such a thing? He knows that you aren’t attracted to wizards, Cassie. It is too much to ask!”

Clutching at her sister’s arm in alarm she demanded, “Please, oh please tell me you didn’t say yes, did you?”

“To answer your questions, Dore, Arcturus asked me because the family is in danger of not existing in the near future. That’s how he could do it. He’s desperate to stop that from happening,” she smiled grimly.

“Yes, he knows that I find the idea of having a sexual union with a wizard to be a very unpleasant notion, but he promised he would do his best to make it as easy on me as he possibly could. He even suggested a ménage à trois with me, Mel or another lesbian witch (to make the mating more palatable and relaxing for me) and he told me that Melania would participate if necessary,” she said.

Her sister’s eyes widen in horrified realisation. “Oh bugger! That’s why Melania was acting quite odd today. She knows that her husband wants to have sex with his cousin to create an heir to supplant her own son. How totally humiliating that must be for her.”

“Probably,” Cassie conceded. “He surely wouldn’t volunteer her to take part in a threesome before talking to her about it. At least I hope not.” Seeing her sister’s look of disapproval, she hastened to reassure her.

“Don’t worry, I’d never ask her to be a part of anything like that, Dory. Melania may be supportive of lesbian witches, but she isn’t attracted to them. It would feel like coercion to have sex with a witch you know wasn’t into it.”

Dorea frowned at the inherent contradiction that Cass apparently thought it was okay though for her to have sex with a wizard when she wasn’t attracted to them. As she was trying to frame a response, Cassie beat her to it, as if anticipating what she was trying to say.

“As to it being too big a request, if he is correct, this is the very existence of our family, our heritage that’s at stake. How could he not ask? This is our family, our duty. Do I like the idea? No, not at all but I see the necessity.

It is for the good of the family and we need to put its future ahead of our petty wants and desires – it was how Father brought us up. Duty and family as you well know. If he were still with us, I believe that he would agree that this was a necessary evil, Dory.”

Pausing a beat, she said, “And I don’t suppose that Arcturus will find it exactly a pleasant experience either, having to fuck his lesbian cousin instead of his devoted and comely wife but he has to do his duty to our House,” she said coarsely.

Her sister stared at her dumbstruck. Did Cassie honestly believe that Arcturus would find any sex taking place between them an unpleasant duty? Seriously? You’d surely have to be blind not to see the lust in his eyes when Cassie was around, especially when she went to the trouble of dressing up and doing her hair and makeup at social events, looking stunningly beautiful. Even exercising the horses with hay in her hair, her lithe figure, clad in muggle riding britches and leather boots that displayed her long legs and T-shirt revealing her womanly assets, Cassiopeia Black was simply a gorgeous witch. Her grey-blue eyes so typical of the Black blood, her high sculpted cheekbones and trademark haughty unattainable air, partly an artefact of their Black family breeding and upbringing, but also due to her total lack of interest in even the most handsome and eligible wizards, drove men to distraction.  Her evident disinterest just made them even more determined to possess her.

Even for the Wizards who knew about her female lovers, there was stupid bravado and boasting that all she needed was a real wizard with a skilled wand to set her straight. That and the coarse jokes about having a three-way with a pair of dykes seemed to be a distressingly common sexual fantasy among straight wizards. So Dorea totally wasn’t buying the notion Arcturus must be suffering at the thought of having sex with Cassie too. Salazar’s Serpent, Cassie could be utterly clueless at times!

Meanwhile, her big sister continued to lay out her argument calmly. “Dory,” she said, taking her sister’s hand and squeezing it gently before commencing to stroke each figure absentmindedly. “If this were the Abraxan, Aethonan or the Granians herds and they were facing the extinction of their lines, I would be doing everything in my power to prevent it happening too. You know, I would.”

Dorea nodded. It was true enough. Cassie adored the horses above and beyond the fact that their father had entrusted them into her care.

Staring intently at the lines on Dorea’s palm, she said softly, “As Aurélien and I were flying down here just now, I remembered how you and I talked about the fact that some of the colts and fillies favour their own gender. And that is true, but it is also true that the fillies get serviced by Aurélien or another stallion regardless of their preferences – for the good of the herd. How could I, of all witches be so hypocritical as to shy away from my duty to produce a worthy heir to the family because I’m not attracted to an individual who just happens to have cock and balls and wants to put it in me?” she said with intentional crudeness, hoping to divert her sister.

Eyeing her in alarm, Dorea stated angrily, “So you agreed to go through with it?”

Cassie gave her a big-sister look, “Not yet. I said I wanted to think about it. But it makes sense, and I don’t want the House of Black to go from being the preeminent pureblood house to ceasing to exist or worse. You know as well as I do, if Walburga and Orion were to procreate, the line would be riddled with a madness that can’t be bred out.”

With a sudden Slytherin gleam in her eyes, Dorea begged her sister. “Please, Cassie, don’t agree just yet. I want to see if there isn’t another solution – a better one than what Arcturus has proposed.”

Seeing the pleading look, Cassie sighed. “Okay, you have twenty-four hours but then I’m telling Arcturus I agree to the plan. If we are going to do this, I want to get it over and done with as soon as I can, little sister,” she said firmly – her mind made up after her discussion with her sister.

It would get easier, it had to.

Chapter 5

“It won’t work, Arcturus.”

Glaring at his cousin, who glared right back at him. She was every inch a Black in her steady gaze, her implacable body language denoting complete and utter confidence in her assessment and a stubborn refusal to cower in the face of his charismatic authority. It infuriated him but equally, he admired her bottle.

She was a worthy opponent and a laudable daughter of the House of Black. If she had been a wizard, he would have been highly tempted right then to have eschewed Orion as his heir and opted for her in his stead despite her questionable politics. Alas, she had been born a witch and therefore ineligible to assume the mantle of their Head of House upon his demise. Yet she was magnificent and the embodiment of the best of their family.

Youngest daughter and youngest offspring of his Uncle Cygnus and Aunt Violetta, Dorea faced him down with fierce and righteous fury, tempered by her brilliant analysis of the existential threat that faced their line. She was refreshingly candid about the dual calamities of infertility that plagued them and madness threatening to engulf the House of Black; refusing to kowtow to him merely because he was the head of the Black family. She’d also dared to berate his father for his decision to disown her brother Marius because he was born a squib or for expelling their cousin Cedrella for marrying Septimus Weasley.

She’d argued passionately that by washing their hands of her brother Marius, they robbed their line of his son Rigel Black. Rigel was proving to be an impressive young wizard, who’d recently excelled in his OWLS at Hogwarts, even with a squib father and a muggle mother. Plus, as much as Sirius had deplored the Weasley’s (despite their status as a Noble and Ancient line and one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight) for their liberal attitude to the notion of blood purity, they were an extremely prolific line.

She’d pointed out sarcastically that was an attribute that could have greatly benefited the House of Black, who was struggling to produce healthy and fecund offspring. Yet, she pointed out logically, his father had permitted Pollux to remain within the family after fathering a child with Irma Crabbe long before he was an adult wizard, introducing a vein of insanity into their line. But she observed sarcastically, the Crabbe family abhorred muggles and half-bloods, so their blood must automatically be superior to the Weasleys in spite of their madness and lack of intellectual rigour.

Arcturus had to admit that she’d made a compelling case but then, his cousin was an Unspeakable and a respected experimental potions master. She was insanely intelligent and talented, and he knew she had the Black family wellbeing at heart. Difficult as it was to hear her being critical of his father’s actions as Head of the House of Black (even if he agreed with her analysis when she defended her assessments) it was another caldron of newts when she dared to be critical of his attempts to halt their existential demise by siring a new heir. How dare she take such liberties.

And yet, she did dare. His younger cousin stood toe to toe with him, glare for glare, refusing to back down. Finally, he gave ground, realising that it wouldn’t hurt to listen to her thoughts. It didn’t mean he was bound to follow them.  He told himself that strength lay in being able to listen to dissent, to debate issues on their merits and to be guided by cool calm analysis.

Sitting and motioning the fiery witch to sit as well, he sighed. “Give me at least one good reason why my plan for an heir to save the family will not work, Cousin Dorea,” he ordered firmly.

“Because if Cassie were to fall pregnant, she would not be able to leave Blackwood Park for almost a year, but she would need to be out of sight to prevent people gossiping. If her baby disappears around the same time that Walburga welcomes a child, don’t you think people will talk, that they will figure it out or at least suspect?”

Chagrined that he’d overlooked such an obvious point, he shrugged. “Okay I concede that I didn’t think of that but why can’t Cassiopeia simply go into seclusion?”

“Because of her bond with the horses. They will stop breeding and the mares may abort any foals they’re carrying if she is gone for any length of time. Aside from the fact, she wouldn’t do it, and even if she did agree to go to ground, the tangible effects it would have on the herd would cause way too many rumours in the equine community. They’re terrible gossip mongers.” Dorea told him patiently.

Frowning, he knew she spoke the truth – the breeders were always speculating about each other’s herds. He wanted absolute discretion about his heir, for everyone’s sake but also for Melania. She had been adamant that she wouldn’t stand in his way, mostly because she reluctantly agreed that Orion was not up to the task and abhorred the thought of Walburga giving birth to her grandchild. However, she equally resolute that she would not raise any baby he fathered with Cassiopeia as her own, either. Which was why he’d decided to let Orion and Walburga raise the heir. It would keep them happy and prevent Walburga from further polluting their blood with the Crabbe madness, which he considered crucial to their survival.

A part of him cringed at the thought of that batshit crazy witch raising his offspring. However, his ruthlessly pragmatic side felt that growing up in a far less nurturing home than Melania had created for their own children may toughen and strengthen his heir’s character in a way that Melania’s loving had failed to do in Orion. A sword needed to be forged by fire to develop the necessary toughness to be of use in a battle and Arcturus sensed that a battle for their very existence may be in the offing. Perhaps Walberg craziness could achieve what loving devotion had failed to do for the current heir.

Arcturus felt intensely irritated. It was always a lot easier to pick holes in a plan than to come up with one in the first place. The plan was too important to be abandoned, there had to be a way to make it work. He’d failed to factor in the bond Cassiopeia had running three herds of horses, even though he had a herd of Thestrals. Still, it was understandable – he might nominally own the herd, but it was more of a business proposition, Lycoris was the one who had bonded with the herd after being with her maternal great grandmother when she’d passed on. Once she was able to view them corporeally, she had developed an obsession with the creatures. After the bonding, the herd really began to thrive, happy to have an outlet for her time since she’d reconciled herself to the reality that she couldn’t bear a child of her own.

He briefly wondered about the claims that Dorea had made that Muggle healers were much more advanced at treating infertility issues than they were. He briefly pondered if Lucretia and Lycoris might be able to conceive if he were to allow them to consult a muggle expert. The father and brother in him wanted to think that his sister and daughter might be able to have a baby, but his pragmatic side squelched the idea, knowing that it would be impossible for them to go out into the muggle world without breaking the Statute of Secrecy. Besides, how would his allies and foes regard it if the news ever got out that he’d relied on muggles over respected pureblood magical healers?

Looking across at his cousin, he recognised Dorea’s Slytherinish I-have-a-plan expression that filled him with equal measures of relief, elation, and downright alarm.  The alarm because he just knew that she had come up with a foolproof plan and that it would end up costing him dearly. She was practically daring him to ask her.

If it weren’t so deadly serious, he’d discipline her for her insubordinate mien, but it was a matter of their very survival, so he was going to lenient. “Right, so what do you suggest we do, Cousin?”

“Cassie would draw attention if she went into seclusion for nine months, but I wouldn’t be missed if I were to take a sabbatical. Cassie and I share the same Black and Bulstrode-blood so that isn’t a problem. Plus, I’m five years younger so I shouldn’t have any fertility issues – I’ve already consulted a healer and they said I am fertile and shouldn’t have any difficulty conceiving,” she told him.

Arcturus was surprised by her offer, but she was right. She did share the same blood as Cassie and she was younger and extremely intelligent and a most competent witch, all of which would make her an excellent choice. Of course, he’d been looking forward to having sex with Cassie and showing her what she was missing out on by not letting a wizard put his wand in her. He was certain that in the end, she’d be begging for his dick because he was a talented lover, and he was skilled with it. At Hogwarts, all the Slytherin witches he’d bedded had complimented him on his prowess and unlike his stupid younger cousin Pollux, he’d never let some horse-faced witch trap him into a reluctant marriage and an unwanted pregnancy all by the age of thirteen – the stupid little prick!

He’d made an excellent match with his wife, Melania who he’d considered to have impeccable breeding. Well, he had before giving him an infertile daughter and a son who was not exactly charismatic or powerful, but that aside, she had never caused embarrassment or scandal to the family, unlike Pollux who’d practically been forced into marrying Irma Crabbe at the point of her father’s wand, the bloody idiot.

The handsome raven-haired wizard frowned feeling a little disappointed at his dashed plan of having a ménage à trois with two very sexy witches. It was an unfulfilled fantasy of his and now it looked as if it was going to stay that way, but Dorea was right, the whole strategy to produce a new heir and save the Black family needed to be enacted with extreme discretion.

Fortunately, Dorea was also stunningly beautiful, almost a carbon copy of Cassiopeia, except for her sister’s blonde curls and her grey-blue eyes. Dorea was a dark brunette with silver-grey orbs that were dazzling and a little disturbing until you became accustomed to them. Plus, Cassiopeia’s bosoms were larger, he reckoned they’d fit nicely in his hands but Dorea’s were less generous than her big sister’s. However, it wouldn’t exactly be a hardship for him to impregnate his younger cousin; it just wouldn’t be as much of a turn on.

Part of the attraction with Cassiopeia was that he would be the first wizard she’d been with, so in some respects, he considered her a virgin since she’d never had a dick inside her before or sucked one either. He was looking forward to teaching her at length about the magic that a wizard wields since it might take a few tries before she was with child. That same anticipation of deflowering a beautiful virgin wasn’t there with her younger sister. He was certain as he could be (without him demanding to know) that Dorea and that blood traitor, Charlus Potter were intimate. So, creating a baby wouldn’t be as sexually alluring as being with a virgin, but his sexual fantasies weren’t really the point.

The most important thing to keep in mind was that the fate of the family was at stake and therefore must take precedent. If Dorea was volunteering to help him produce an heir that was more robust and negated the Crabbe blood, how could he refuse? He wondered what, other than familial obligation had motivated her to volunteer her womb. Dorea was as Slytherin as he was, she obviously had an agenda – not that it was a bad thing.

Directing a suspicious look at his cousin, he said, “What prompted you to offer to take Cassiopeia’s place, Cousin?”

Dorea made steady eye contact with the Head of the House of Black. Her silver-grey stare was rather unnerving as she sized him up, although Arcturus would rather snap his own wand than admit that to anyone but himself.  Picking up a crystal goblet of spring water, he took a sip and waited, confident that she would answer his question.

“I think the union of Walburga and Orion is a massive mistake, but as Head of the House, I bow to your belief that forbidding it would be damaging. However, I do question if the fallout would be worse than letting them marry, but that is not my decision to make.” She bowed her head in supplication before asking, “but if I may have you leave to speak candidly for a moment?”

Sighing inwardly, he nodded his assent.

Dorea regarded him gravely before speaking her mind. “I believe that instead of disowning Marius because he was a squib, Uncle Sirius should have disowned Pollux rather than accepting Irma Crabbe into the family, but it’s all quaffles through the quidditch hoop, I suppose,” she pulled a disapproving face.

“That said, letting Orion and Walburga bear the next heir is horrific to me. We may be in trouble with too many other families diluting our blood and being plagued by fertility problems, but they must not be permitted to reproduce. With all due respect to Orion, he must be crazy to marry her.”

Arcturus gave a mental wince because the Head of the Black family could not show signs of vulnerability, not even within his own family, but he didn’t disagree with his younger cousin. His father made a massive strategic error in not disowning Pollux, trying to hush up the scandal of his nephew getting a fellow Hogwarts student pregnant because it made him look foolish. In hindsight, the cursed madness that now infected their family was a far more expensive price to pay than acknowledging the scandal would have been. Although lately, he’d wondered if Pollux might not have fallen victim to being potioned by Irma Crabbe who was insanely ambitious.

The more he thought about it, the more likely it seemed, and he was suspicious that Walburga was similarly targeting Orion because he’d never seemed all that fussed with courting or marriage. It wouldn’t be too difficult to arrange a marriage to a pureblood witch who wasn’t prone to bouts of mouth-foaming rants and violent outbursts. Although Walburga wasn’t a troll, having inherited the physical attributes of the Blacks meant she was pleasingly attractive, at least in repose, when she was at the height of her episodes of shrill shrieking rage and madness, she was reminiscent of a Gorgon.

He was hoping a baby would soothe the savage beast and cause the madness to retreat if she had an infant to nurture. At least that was what her father believed, although Pollux had been dumb enough to have unprotected sex with Irma Crabbe too, so his judgment might be a little off when it came to family.

Like Dorea, he couldn’t understand why his son would choose Walburga’s craziness over civility, sanity, and decorum of one of the other pureblood witches. It had been his daughter, Lucretia who had provided him with a possible explanation when he expressed his astonishment that Orion had proposed to his cousin. She’d made a Slytherinish quip about once he’d done his husbandly duty and produced an heir, he probably thought that Walburga was too besotted with her foul little house elf to notice that Orion was too busy riding Ryland Travers and Jasper Frawley’s broomsticks, to frequent her marital bed.

Call him stupid, but at first, he’d thought his daughter was speaking literally and been quite puzzled as to why he would be riding a broomstick, especially as he’d never shown any great interest in flying in the past, not even during his school days at Hogwarts. If he were so interested in flying, he could afford to buy his own broomstick, surely. Curious, he decided to put a tracking charm on his son to figure out what he was up to. Arcturus had gotten a very nasty shock when he learnt that Orion frequented a private wizards club just around the corner from Knockturn Alley, a club that catered for wizards who only preferred to ride other wizards’ broomsticks.

Of course, it was quite a shock, but then again there were a few of his own contemporaries who weren’t entirely straight. Back when they were at Hogwarts, Lord Selwyn and Lord Avery had been caught in broom closets with each other and a slew of other wizards over their seven years. They’d claimed they had sex with wizards because their libidos were so powerful that witches wouldn’t meet their needs the multiple times a day that they got hard. Plus, they pointed out if they fucked a wizard, they didn’t have to worry about hurting them like they would with a witch. Arcturus privately thought that it was also because it was a lot easy to get another wizard off as opposed to a witch.

Not that he knew that from personally having sex with another wizard. It was just that he sometimes needed to jerk himself off when Melania wasn’t around, and it was always a lot quicker when it was just himself, his wand, and his casting hand. Still, even though it took more time, Lord Black understood that if you wanted a happy witch you needed to take the time to get them in the mood before you released the quaffles and called in the beaters to hammer home the goal or if you were really got lucky, scored multiple goals.

Anyway, regularly riding other wizards’ broomsticks didn’t stop Selwyn or Avery from making good marriages and producing offspring and having what appeared to be perfectly normal unions. It was nothing like his cousin Cassiopeia who didn’t want a husband or children, which in his opinion was unnatural. It was just that wizards had stronger and more frequent urges. So, he had every confidence that Orion would have a successful marriage too…well as much as was possible with someone who was as batshit crazy as Walburga was anyway.

After an awkward silence that Dorea hadn’t tried to fill, he queried, “And that’s it. You are concerned about a child of their union inheriting Walburga’s insanity? That isn’t an issue if they only have male offspring, though.”

“Yes, it is. Bella’s madness proves it can be passed on via the male line. It will destroy us.”

Arcturus nodded. “Granted. So, you are prepared to carry a baby and hand it over to Orion and Walburga?”

“I am. For the future of our family. If they produce a biological heir, I agree that the Black Family is doomed to go extinct in the next couple of generations.”

“I see. And what will it cost me?” He saw her look of surprise. “Nothing is free, Dorea, everything comes at a price.”

“If I do this, I need a vow from you that you won’t disown me if I marry Charlus Potter and we have children.”

“Ah, the muggle loving blood traitor.” He said mockingly.

“Call him what you will, but I will need his assistance to pull this off, Arcturus. If we are married, then it will not seem unusual if I request a sabbatical from the Department of Mysteries once I am with child. As Charlus is a highly respected healer and I am an experimental potions mistress, we can tell people we’re searching for new healing plants without anyone becoming suspicious.

“Plus, he can take care of me and help deliver the child – the fewer people involved the less chance anyone will find out. Giving me leave to marry Charlus and accept him into the family, benefits not only me but it helps you get your precious heir,” she stated calmly.

“Is Charlus the one you were speaking about when you suggested that Lycoris and Lucretia may benefit from consulting a specialised healer?” Arcturus asked curiously.

“He is one of the healers I spoke about,” Dorea said, knowing it probably wasn’t wise to reiterate that the others were muggle healers utilising a combination of magical and muggle healing therapies.

He nodded, considering the situation carefully. Dorea had made a compelling case. Despite all the pureblood wizards and wizards that had joined the House of Black by marriage, their fertility rate was rapidly declining and now they had madness in the bloodline.  Would having a muggle loving pureblood cause any more harm? And even if it did, at the rate they were going it probably wouldn’t make that much of a difference.

Yet if they managed to create a strong heir then it would all be worth it, and it might just be handy to have a healer in the family. However, it would never do to be seen to be capitulating too quickly. He had a reputation to uphold.

Looking at his cousin, he asked, “Did Cassiopeia explain that I plan to obliviate Orion and Walburga to make them believe that they have made the heir?” Seeing he nod, he said, “And you are okay with this?”

Dorea pulled a sour expression. “Would I prefer that it wasn’t necessary? Of course, I would. Do I think that it is required? Yes, unfortunately. Walburga should not have children and that is the bottom line. How are you proposing to prevent them from conceiving?”

Her cousin frowned. “I haven’t decided. Have the house-elves cast an anticontraception charm when they are together,” he said diffidently.

“There are potions that could be brewed to reduce fertility,” Dorea said. “Another consideration; it would probably be best if you sent them to one of the family estates in Europe so that when they turn up with a baby it won’t turn heads.”

Arcturus nodded. That was good thinking, but then he would expect nothing less from his insanely smart Slytherin cousin. She was the best that the House of Black could produce – except for her fondness for muggle lovers.  He considered the Black properties in Europe which might be options, probably not the ones in Italy or France but Bulgaria or Hungary had some secluded properties which might fit the bill.

The fact that his cousin had been able to take his plan and make it better pissed him off. He knew he should be grateful to her for helping to ensure that the plan succeeded but it also peeved him intensely and made him pig-headed about her request to marry Potter.

He knew she had him over a barrel so if he refused her, he would be hurting his chances of getting an heir who could save the family, but it was damn tempting to his ego. However, he wasn’t stupid enough to sabotage his plan just to bolster his precious self-image. The truth was that if the heir had Dorea’s Slytherin wiles and her intelligence along with his own charisma and leadership qualities, he might be the saviour they desperately needed.

Deciding to accede to her application to marry Charlus Potter, which was more like a demand since she held more of the power in their negotiation, he decided to up the ante to save face. He was still the head of the House of Black and he needed to remind her of that fact.

Staring at her he said sternly, “I will grant you permission to marry Potter, but it is going to cost you. I’m going to demand not only an heir but a spare, just in case said heir should fail to reach their majority.”

Wow, she didn’t see that coming.

Chapter 6

He asked what her terms were, she told him, and he made a counteroffer.

“I’ll grant you permission to marry Potter, but it is going to cost you. I’m going to demand not only an heir but a spare, just in case said heir should fail to reach their majority.”

Dorea flinched momentarily, the only tell that she had been caught off guard before considering the counteroffer. She looked at Arcturus contemplatively. “I’m going to need a few minutes to think about it before I agree to this, Cousin but before I say yea or nay, I want to clarify some particulars.”

Looking askance at her, he raised his right eyebrow, essentially agreeing and commanding her to continue.

As Dorea glanced around the rather austere office with its dark wood panelling, desk and bookshelves with its hunter green curtains, rich upholstery, and touches of silver in the picture frames and candelabra, she tried to marshal her thoughts. She didn’t want to forget any critical details. As her brother Marius was fond of pointing out, muggles had a saying that ‘the devil is in the details,’ which he’d explained meant that details are important; problems or difficulties are often to be found in the details.

“While there are ways to encourage the sex of a baby, no one can guarantee that magic will not step in and have their way. If I bear a female, would you want to raise the child as your own?”

Arcturus thought for several minutes before saying, “I do not think so. Melania would not accept another witch’s child which is why if it is a wizard, I will allow Orion to raise him. I would arrange for a witch to go to a loving home and set up a generous trust fund so that she doesn’t want for anything,” he stated reluctantly.

Dorea nodded. “This must be difficult for Melania. I suspect our friendship will not survive this undertaking which makes me sad, but I really can’t blame her. I believe you have made a wise decision in not forcing her to accept your offspring. That said, I would be prepared to raise her or if I were unable to do so, I would undertake to find her a loving home.”

Arcturus considered it carefully, before stating, “I have no objection to your request. What else?”

“In our Heir and Spare deal, is the stipulation that I supply two male infants, or must they be two wizards and if so, how will that be determined? Obviously, if they are insanely powerful wizards, it will become apparent quite early on should they exhibit bouts of accidental magic but just because there aren’t early manifestations of magic doesn’t necessarily mean that they are squibs.”

Black stared at the heirloom tapestry which depicted the Goblin Rebellion of 1612 between the Goblins and the wizarding world when Eridanus Black (an ancestor) had threatened Goblin economic collapse by withdrawing his massive stockpile of gold from their banks, driving them into an uneven negotiation which amounted to surrender. For his efforts, he was awarded an Order of Merlin (first class) and elected head of the Wizengamot. It was the first documented case of the Blacks using their great wealth for political gain, but it wouldn’t be the last. Although all that wealth and power which had been mercilessly accrued over untold generations, and with it, the power it endowed would be for naught. That is unless Arcturus could secure the line and sire a worthy heir to shore up the shaky family fertility problems.

Shooting his cousin an openly admiring look, he acknowledged honestly, “Ah, another extremely perceptive point. I grant that it would not be practical or fair on you to have to wait for any male offspring to receive a letter of acceptance at Hogwarts. I think that we need to give some thought to how to deal with this thorny issue before we finalise our agreement. Is this agreeable to you, my cousin?”

Dorea threw him an approving gaze. “I think that this is a sensible suggestion. I will make use of the Department of Mysteries’ resources and see if I can’t find a solution,” she said.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way, Dorea, but if you embark on such a quest, it must be an extremely discreet investigation. We do not want anyone getting suspicious later.”

His cousin smiled briefly. “I do not take offence, Arcturus, however, no need to concern yourself. As the sibling of a squib, I have the perfect excuse to be looking into this issue. I can tell people I’m trying to find a way to prevent Marius and others like him from having to be removed from the magical world at the age of eleven. Suddenly being uprooted into the non-magical world is very disorientating. If we could find a reliable means of identifying them early, it would be far less traumatic for them and their families.”

“A truly Slytherin justification, Dory,” he smiled at her fondly. “Despite your unpopular muggle loving tendencies, you are indeed the best witch for the job. It also gives me valuable insight into how you managed to get up to so much mischief at school and still make Head Girl at Hogwarts.”

Dorea merely smirked at him.

Arcturus chuckled. “So, we are agreed. We will reconvene here in one week with a plan on how to deal with this thorny issue before reaching a formal and binding agreement.”

Dorea nodded. “I agree. And in the meantime, may I inform Cassie that you are considering releasing her from her obligation to produce an heir?”

Arcturus felt a twinge of regret, he had convinced himself that a union with his beautiful cousin would be of benefit to her too since he secretly couldn’t understand how any witch could be happy or sexually fulfilled without being filled by a wizard’s dick. It wasn’t natural, yet in the scheme of things, line extinction was far more important than his cousin’s sexual fulfilment.

Sighing mentally, he nodded his assent. “You are right. There are problems in asking Cassiopeia to bear the heir. If we can reach an agreement, I believe that this will give us a much better chance of turning around the future for the Ancient and Noble House of Black and one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight.”

Standing up from the uncomfortable looking love seat that she’d been sitting on, Dorea rose with the grace and elegance that were imbued in the daughters of the House of Black and curtseyed to her cousin and head of their family.

“Lord Black, thank you for your time and consideration,” she addressed her cousin officially. “As agreed, I will investigate the issue of determining wizard status and do so with discretion. Furthermore, I’ll undertake to inform my sister of these developments. I appreciate your efforts to ensure the future of our line,” she said formally before removing herself from Arcturus’ imposing presence.

He watched her depart, thinking about everything which had transpired. Dorea Black was a formidable woman and she had caught him off guard. It was obvious now that she was the right daughter of the House of Black to bear the heir who he hoped would be their family’s saviour. He may have come up with the scheme but as Dorea had demonstrated, Cassie was not the best candidate for the role. She was beautiful and imbued with many fine Black qualities, but she was nowhere near as clever or shrewd as Dorea. His younger cousin was much more Slytherin, crafty as she was ambitious and those were qualities that the heir would need if he were to save the Blacks from being relegated to ignominious obscurity and extinction and turn around their fortunes.

Leaving her cousin’s study Dorea felt energised. It had gone better than she’d hoped. Arcturus had been quite reasonable, although that whole escalation of the ‘heir and a spare’ clause had been unexpected even if it did make sense. And if she was able to marry Charlus without being disowned or breaking her mother’s heart or her oath to her, that was a win-win situation.

Even Arcturus’ tacit approval that she could have any female infants that resulted from their endeavour, while they wouldn’t be Charlus’ children in the biological sense, she was certain that they would be welcomed into his loving heart. So that should they not be able to conceive any progeny of their own, they could still have children to love and raise together. Not that Dorea really believed that they wouldn’t be able to have their own offspring.

Then there was the whole issue of identifying which children didn’t possess enough magical ability to become full-fledged wizards and wizards. It seemed like such an awkward haphazard approach to wait until a youngster’s Hogwarts letter did or didn’t arrive and then send a child off to magical school for seven years or banish them from the magical world for the remainder of their lives. Of course, there were some lucky parents whose children exhibited strong episodes of accident magic from an incredibly young age, but others were left hanging, waiting for a letter that may never arrive. Surely there had to be a better way!

Even if her motives were prompted by her personal goals, Dorea was already aware of how much emotional pain was involved in children learning they were squibs because of her own brother, Marius’ experiences. Suddenly, these still dependent children found themselves pushed out into the muggle world with little or no preparation, told that they had to forget everything and everyone they knew. It was harsh and cruel in her opinion but perhaps she could help find a way to identify them much earlier. Then they could be placed with muggle parents and avoid a lot of trauma and heartache.

She was already forming possible lines of investigation as she made her way down the rather grand double staircase. She couldn’t wait to discuss her thoughts with Charlus who she expected would have some valuable insights and theories of his own. Perhaps they could develop a joint research project that focused on the early identification of wizard and witches that could justify them disappearing from Britain while she was pregnant. They could travel overseas to consult other Unspeakables and healers.

As she was mentally planning some of the steps that needed to be taken to launch the research project she ran into Arcturus’ wife, Melania who smiled at her broadly. “Cousin Dorea, what a lovely surprise. Will you take tea with me, Dear?”

Dorea smiled back, guessing that Melania knew full well she’d been talking to Arcturus. The house-elves would have informed their mistress immediately that someone was on the premises. She and Melania had always gotten along with each other well, despite the difference in their ages. She reckoned that Melania was often bored and lonely, so she was always happy to accept luncheon and afternoon tea invitations from her cousin’s wife. It wasn’t as if it was any great hardship; Melania was a gracious hostess, their conversations were always stimulating and witty. Although Melania had a fragile air about her that stirred feelings of protectiveness in people, she was anything but fragile, able to stand up to Arcturus when she felt it was necessary. She had the driest sense of humour of anyone Dorea had ever met.

Sadly, she suspected that once Melania found out that her husband had decided to ‘borrow’ Dorea’s womb instead of Cassie’s, that their close friendship would not survive Operation Heir and a Spare as she was mentally dubbing it. How could it? So, the experimental potion maker decided to accept what could possibly be the last spontaneous invitation to share afternoon tea before Arcturus broke the news and ruined their friendship.

“I’d love to have afternoon tea with you, Mel. Do you have any more of that divine apple charlotte left over? The one that Mipsy made the last time?”

Melania grinned. “I’m sure she can rustle up a piece or two, my cousin. Come into the parlour and fill me in on the latest gossip at the ministry. Is Abraxas still attempting to stir up trouble?”

Dorea rolled her eyes as they walked into the parlour, noting the stiff formal décor, and wishing that Melania had suggested they have afternoon tea in the conservatory which was filled with light and a stunning collection of orchids which produced a visual and olfactory delight to her senses. Even for family though, her cousin’s sense of decorum apparently dictated that hosting afternoon team, anyplace but the formal parlour would be an extreme breach of respectability. Shame about that.

Sitting in one of the Regency styled armchairs that weren’t exactly comfortable, Melania played mother. She poured the oolong tea using a sterling silver heirloom teapot with a serpentine handle representing the Black Family’s emblem. Melania leaned forward conspiratorially. “So, what has that old reprobate Abraxas Malfoy been up to, Cousin?”

Dorea sipped her tea with just the right amount of lemon in it. “He’s trying to make Minister Bagnold declare that Rubeus Hagrid is a dangerous beast who shouldn’t be permitted to reside at Hogwarts because he is a danger to the students,” she huffed indignantly.

“Hagrid? Is he a werewolf?”

“Hardly. He’s an extremely large wizard whose wand was snapped after he was accused of causing a student’s death when he was a 4th-year student at Hogwarts. People speculate that he has giant blood because of his outsized stature.”

“He killed someone?” Melania asked. “What’s he doing at Hogwarts then, regardless of his blood status?” she sounded highly disapproving. “In this particular instance, I have to say that I agree with Malfoy.”

Dorea sighed long sufferingly. “Hagrid never killed anyone. He was reported to have somehow managed to open the Chamber of Secrets and let the beast attack and kill a muggle-born 2nd year Ravenclaw student called Myrtle Warren. Albus Dumbledore was the professor of transfiguration at the time, and he believed that Hagrid was framed for the murder, but he couldn’t prove it to the satisfaction of the Headmaster or the Ministry. When Hagrid was expelled and had his wand snapped, Albus defended him to Headmaster Dippet,”

Melania snorted genteelly. “Armando Dippet, that silly old fool!”

“Quite!” Dorea agreed cynically. “Not exactly one of the intellectual giants of his time. Anyway, Albus managed to argue that the former Gryffindor be permitted to live on the grounds and be trained as a gamekeeper since Hagrid had a real affinity with magical creatures and was an orphan.”

“While it pains me to have to agree with Albus Dumbledore about anything,” Melania said regretfully, “I must concur about Hagrid being made a scapegoat. While many people thought Salazar’s Chamber of Secrets was a myth, we Slytherin’s know the truth. The idea that a half breed giant from Gryffindor could possibly be the Heir of Salazar and could open the Chamber where other famous wizards… great Slytherin wizards had failed is frankly laughable.”

This is why I like my conversations with Melania – she can think independently, Dorea thought fondly.

“What you said makes perfect sense to anyone from a pureblood or Slytherin background. Hagrid was a Gryffindor – what are the odds that he could ever be capable of opening the Chamber? Dorea acknowledged gravely.

This means that a whole lot of people must have known that he couldn’t possibly be guilty,” Melania pointed out.

“Definitely. Which means the real killer got away with it and a whole lot of wizards and witches are complicit in the muggle-borns death.”

Melania frowned. “They must have had some evidence or justification surely?”

“Apparently they blamed him because he had an Acromantula spider as a pet.”

“Oh, for pity’s sake, what would possess anyone to keep one as a pet? Is he mentally deranged?” Melania asked, horrified.

“I expect that even when Dippet permitted him to attend Hogwarts, that he would have faced staff and students who wouldn’t have accepted him and so he tried to find acceptance from his creatures. Just a pity that he didn’t seek out a more benign creature to provide him companionship.”

Melania nodded agreement as she offered Dorea a slice of Mipsy’s apple charlotte. “I take it that there hasn’t been any trouble with Hagrid since he was serving as gamekeeper?”

Seeing Dorea’s shake her head, she said. “So, Abraxas is just being a prat trying to have him thrown out of his position just because of his half breed status,” she concluded dryly. Is he getting any support at the ministry?”

Her cousin pulled a sour face. Only the Head of the Office for Improper Use of Magic, Delores Umbridge, the obsequious ugly toad-faced bitch!” she said, her voice dripping with an uncharacteristically venomous disgust.

Melania frowned because as a rule, Dorea didn’t go around denigrating her fellow workers at the Ministry or make comments about their physical appearance. “I’m afraid I’m not familiar with her,” she replied curiously, given Dorea’s reaction.

“Then you can truly consider yourself lucky, Cousin. She’s quite the vilest, sycophantic witch it has ever been my misfortunate to encounter. She simpers and grovels to her superiors and bullies anyone at the Ministry who is of a lesser rank without mercy. In general, the staff loathe her; they call her The Toad behind her back.”

Dorea didn’t share with her cousin that Umbridge claimed to be a purebred witch but her mother, Ellen was a Muggle who’d left her husband and daughter behind and returned to the muggle world with her brother Farlow when he turned out to be a squib. Meanwhile, after attending Hogwarts, the former Slytherin entered the Ministry as an intern in the Office for Improper Use of Magic, bullying her father into retiring from the low-level position he held in the Magical Maintenance department. She denied any relationship to him, falsely claiming to have descended from the House of Selwyn, a respected pureblood family and one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight.

She might fool some purebloods but working in the Department of Mysteries as Dorea did, gave her and her colleagues access to every employee’s family tree, so she knew the truth about Umbridge, the unctuous weasel. Obviously, she had to sign a secrecy contract when she started working there, but while she couldn’t out Umbridge, she didn’t have to pretend that she was a nice person.

“So, will Abraxas and Umbridge wield enough power to have the Hogwarts gamekeeper removed from Hogwarts, do you think?”

“I hope not. They are both far too influential as it is. Aside from which, it is the opinion of my colleagues at the DOM that Hagrid is fairly harmless.” Seeing her cousin’s dubious expression, she grinned, “Okay, so apart from his unfathomable affection for Acromantulas,” she conceded with a moue of distaste.

They dropped the subject of Dumbledore’s gamekeeper, moving onto the usual gossip about who was holding the next big society ball or dinner party and who was about to announce their nuptials. Dorea wondered how Melania and the rest of the family would react when she and Charlus announced their own long-desired union. She imagined that many of the family and their friends would be shocked and surprised, some disapproving. She’d all but given up on expecting it to happen.

Realistically she’d always assumed that her marriage wouldn’t happen until after her mother died, relieving her of the vow she’d made to her. Paradoxically, she also wanted her mother to live a long and happy life for many years to come, unlike her father who’d died much too young. The only other way that she could have seen being able to marry Charlus was if Arcturus were to die, and Orion became the Head of the House. She’d thought it was barely possible she may convince her nephew to give her his blessing since he didn’t have the iron will of his father who was a true Black. However, now that she knew he was going to marry her niece she knew that that would be as likely to occur as a dragon cosying up and becoming best friends with a kneazle. Walburga hated the Potters with a passion.

Fortunately, Arcturus was going to allow her and Charlus to marry and have a family. She could hardly wait to tell him her good news.

~o0o~

Charlus stared at the beautiful, funny and highly intelligent witch who was his better half and told her, “Of course I would be honoured to marry you, my darling. But only if Arcturus does not jeopardise the oath you took to your mother, then I am all in.”

Dorea Black smiled like a Kneazle that had just managed to steal the cream. “I was awfully specific in my vow, my love. I didn’t vow I wouldn’t marry – I vowed that I wouldn’t marry you IF it resulted in me being disowned by the Head of the House of Black. Arcturus has agreed, in return for my help in securing the future of the Black line by producing an heir to allow our marriage to go ahead. Plus, he’s going to probably ask for your advice about the fertility issues which are rife in the line and threatening line extinction.”

Charlus shrugged. “I’m a healer, I would have helped anyway. But Dory, are you sure you are going to be okay having to share Arcturus’ bed to make his heir?” he asked with a sense of unease? I would not ask that of you just so we could get married, my darling.”

Dorea looked him straight in his dark blue, almost indigo eyes. “Do I wish it weren’t necessary? Of course, but I’m not only doing this because I want to marry you and have a family, without breaking Mother’s heart, Charlie. I am doing this because if I don’t, Cassiopeia will and you know she has never been with a man and has no desire to, but she recognises that we have a duty to the family. Both of us believe after looking at the facts and statistics that we need to act immediately. The Crabbe blood must be negated.

“Besides, I’m sure you’ve seen the way wizards, including my cousin Arcturus stare at Cassie, they’re all in lust, wanting to bed her. I’ve listened to enough of them talk to know that they think all she needs is a real wizard to show her what she’s been missing out on and that will cure her, so she will be normal. They act like there is something wrong with her because she prefers witches,” Dorea said indignantly, scowling at a picture on her wall of long-deceased wizards from the family before she collected herself.

“So, I’m doing this for family – for the future of the Blacks to try to prevent its extinction, to save my sister from boorish wizards and their ignorance and bigotry and in addition to my altruistic motives there is also my selfish one to ensure you and I get to have a family. Will I find it unpalatable to have sex with my cousin instead of my lover? Maybe but it is just sex – I have no feelings for him beyond familial ones and I do not think he is enthralled or attracted to me as he most certainly is with Cassie.”

It suddenly occurred to her that perhaps Melania was also aware of his lust towards his own cousin – after all, Cassie was a stunningly beautiful witch. It might explain why she was acting so odd about the plan for him to fuck Cassiopeia and perhaps if Dorea was going to bear his heir (and spare) Melania wouldn’t have a problem with it because she would know it was purely family business and duty that drove her wizard, not some secret sexual fantasy. At least she hoped that might be the case since she didn’t wish to lose the relationship she had with Melania. However, there was no question in her mind, if that was the price that must be paid, then family and duty must come first.

“But before we go ahead with this plan, I need to know that you are okay with me doing this?” she checked. The beautiful brunette witch snuggled up against the tall and wiry healer, looking up into his eyes to make sure he was being truthful about his feelings.

“Dorea, I would never tell a witch what she can or cannot do with her womb when it comes to reproduction or producing heirs for the family line. That is your decision to make, and I defend your right to do so.” Charlus told her emphatically. “As long as you are not doing this because you believe I desire an heir.”

She nodded her assent. “Thank you, Darling. But I do need to ask, how would you feel if I failed to produce a male and instead, I conceived one or more girls with Arcturus. He has indicated he has no wish to raise any female offspring and is happy for me to bring them up or to place them in appropriate homes. Would you be willing to accept them?”

Charlus considered what she was asking carefully. “I like to think that I would accept any child who needed a loving home,” he told her.

“Even one who you didn’t father?”

“He frowned. “There is more to being a father than supplying a minuscule amount of biological material. There is love and care, nurturing and protection. Then there’s accountability, guidance, discipline, and probably scores of other equally critical factors that are requirements for raising happy healthy and well-adjusted youngsters. Plus, they would be a part of you Dorea – have your smarts and willingness to embrace change. Of course, I could love and care for them as if they were my own – they would be mine.”

“I didn’t want to take your acceptance for granted, Charlus. No one appreciates not being asked but that said, I knew that as a healer sworn to help others and as the incredible loving and sexy wizard that I want to spend the rest of my years with, that you would probably feel that way about a baby girl should I have one. BUT I still needed to check.”

“I appreciate that Dory and I hope that I’ve reassured you.”

Dorea nodded. “Yes, you have. And that’s great since I feel like I must do this if for no other reason than to stop Walburga (and further down the track, Bellatrix) from sullying our line with offspring that are…” she paused momentarily searching for the words to express herself.

Charlus interrupted her, “I believe the medical term you were searching for is batshit crazy, my dear one,” he commented wryly.

Smiling in appreciation of his quick wit and facility to sum up the situation succinctly without esoteric healer’s terminology, she told him fondly, “Thanks. That was just the term I was searching for. So now I’m going to proceed with this necessary and noble undertaking, even though it isn’t going to be easy,” she concluded firmly.

Their future was looking good!

Chapter 7

November 3rd, 1959

A little after midnight, Arcturus received a Patronus from his cousin, Dorea Potter to say she was in labour and her husband would contact him when the birth was imminent. Although he felt an overwhelming urge to Apparate over to their pleasant domicile which they’d called Potter’s Keep, he was not a totally clueless wizard. Even when it came to things he mentally classified as witches’ business he did know that birthing was not a quick process. His knowledge was partly because his wife Melania had borne him two children already, now both fully grown and independent but also because he bred Thestrals.

And yes, it was more as a hobby than a true business since the expense of supplying them with prime Angus beef was not exactly cheap, but it was the meat they preferred. He’d tried using cheaper sources of feed but except for beef from Highland Cattle which was similar if slighter cheaper price, birth rates were never as high as when they dined on Angus beef. Anyway, that was beside the point, the point being he knew about the process of giving birth, having witnessed the birthing of a foal many times and Arcturus knew that it was not quick or without pain.

The suave wizard was excited that this was finally happening but nervous too. He’d been waiting several years for this night and now it had arrived, swiftly made three decisions. The first one was not to race over to Potters Keep before he got word from Charlus. He honestly had no desire to stand around in the other wizard’s home, awaiting the arrival of his child, hopefully his heir. The second decision was that he would remain here in the relative comfort of his own office and do some work. His steward and equerry had left a pile of parchment on his desk for his scrutiny and signatures. Arcturus’ final decision was he was going to sip some insanely expensive single malt whiskey he’d been saving for a few years now. It seemed appropriate.

One of the reasons why he was going to wait here in his own study until the last stages of the birth were underway was because he found it somewhat awkward being around Potter. First off, his unease was due somewhat to the fact that he, like Charlus’ uncle, Henry Potter, and his heir, Fleamont, were muggle sympathisers, despite their long history of pureblood magic. Their views were diametrically opposed to all that the House of Black stood for. Toujours Pour was the Black’s family motto – one Arcturus took incredibly seriously. Plus, the Blacks had long recognised that dark magic had a limited role under certain situations, of which strict control of the use and knowledge went unsaid. However, that recognition did not embrace true black magic or anything smacking of death or necromancy, just that under some situations the old magic including blood magic had its place in their repertoire. That perspective put the Blacks at odds with light families such as the Potters.

However, Arcturus was also uncomfortable with the weird situation that he found himself in with Dorea and her husband, Charlus. He’d anticipated that Potter would be the one birthing the child that he and his cousin conceived when they’d embarked upon this mission to save the line; it made perfect sense. The wizard was a skilled healer who specialised in births, conception, and fertility problems. He had come to trust Charlus, he obviously knew what he was doing, and Arcturus recognised that for all their differences, the House of Black was lucky to have someone like him in the family, even if Lord Black couldn’t admit it publicly. Potter was making a real difference in the family; already he was helping his sister Lycoris and his daughter Lucretia who’d both believed that they were barren.

Obviously, Potter also knew about the secret undertaking dubbed by Dorea as Operation Heir and the Spare. It made perfect sense to limit Dorea’s pre and antenatal care to a single family member who could keep it secret as much depended upon no one finding out what they were doing. Still, despite his ambivalent feelings about Charlus’ politics, he couldn’t help feeling weird being around the healer, knowing that he’d impregnated Potter’s wife, even though it had been entirely consensual. Merlin knew, if another wizard had shoved his dick into Arcturus’ own witch to impregnated Melania, even for a purely pragmatic and ultimately noble cause of saving her family line, he would want to duel with the prick and remove his manhood.

So, he would wait on news on his own home turf where he could avoid those confusing and conflicting feelings about Cousin Dorea’s husband. Arcturus as the Head of the House of Black, a Noble and Ancient House and one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight families (which had been declared by the Wizengamot in 1938) didn’t like to experience so many conflicting emotions. The wizard wasn’t just helping them save the Black family line, but he also owed Charlus Potter a great deal for trying to help his daughter and his sister and other members of the family plagued with infertility problems. Feelings of gratitude and indebtedness, however, did not sit comfortably on Lord Black’s shoulders even apart from the unorthodox arrangement that he had undertaken with his cousin.

It probably said much about the wizard that Arcturus could empathise with Charlus because Arcturus had a sexual relation with Dorea with the express goal of creating magically strong offspring to take on the mantle of the Black Heir. Offspring who they hoped would inherit his and Dorea’s resilience, hopefully eradicating the vein of insanity that Irma Crabbe had brought to her marriage to his cousin Pollux due to magic curse on the Crabbe family magic. Yet, as much as he might empathise with Potter, he wasn’t wasting any sympathy on how difficult the same situation might be for his own dutiful wife Melania or his cousin Dorea for that matter.

In his mind, both witches were merely doing their duty by their family, while Charlus wasn’t a Black. Plus, Arcturus understood that most wizards (even if they were healers devoted to saving lives) would find it difficult to be polite to another wizard who’d stuck his wand in his property. To his mind, Dorea had agreed – she’d volunteered so as far as he was concerned, she’d been a willing participant. Therefore, he wasn’t about to waste energy on worrying about how she was coping – she’d known what she was agreeing to, just as he did. Nor did he feel sorry for himself, even when he realised that his younger cousin was a better fit for the task than the sexually misguided but still gorgeous Cassiopeia who he’d chosen initially.

Determinedly turning his thoughts to other matters, he thought about how during the past 2 years since he and Dorea had agreed upon this rather dramatic method of trying to save the family and the curse that Irma Crabbe and Pollux had allowed into the Black family. Worryingly, it had now affected two generations of Black – Walburga was worse. Although, since the married couple was now living in Bulgaria, managing a rose farm owned by the Blacks, growing mainly Damascena roses for the muggle perfume market, the couple had been out of sight out and therefore out of mind to a certain degree. However, that was not the case for Cygnus and his wife, Druella, who were vehemently refusing to see what was obvious to the rest of the family. Everyone else agreed that their first daughter, Bellatrix was as mad as a young Blast-Ended-Skrewt, and likely to be equally dangerous when fully grown.

Bella had already tortured animals, dogs and kneazles. Arcturus had banned his grandniece from visiting his stables after he discovered her in the process of pulling out a newborn foal’s fuzzy tail hair and laughing while she did it. He’d been enraged by her cruelty, totally missing the point that Bella was able to see the baby Thestral until his equally outraged cousin Dorea had pointed it out to him. She’d undertaken to make discreet enquiries at the Department of Mysteries about if it were only witnessing death in humans which allowed you to see them or if it were other magical creatures too. Dorea admitted that Bella had killed Dorea’s pet kneazle, drowning it in the well at Blackwood Park.

Even so, that an eight-year-old witch (who was already casting spells) was able to see the Thestrals was disturbing. Not least of all because the equines’ ability to remain unseen was effectively their only means of protection, as, despite their massive size, they were a gentle breed. Arcturus wasn’t sure if Magic considered that people who had seen their loved one’s die, would automatically be kind to the Thestrals and revealed them or not but that didn’t explain Bella.

As he felt his stress level rising, Mipsy their Head House Elf arrived with a pop, looking at him chidingly. To be honest, she was the only one who dared to admonish him, and she’d been doing so ever since he was a babe in arms. He was kind of used to it, although he would categorically deny that if anyone accused him. It was amusing to see a tiny elf boss around the Head of the House of Black, a powerful wizard both in terms of status and his magical power but also because he was so many times bigger than her, yet she never quavered or kowtowed to him. Probably why he adored her and didn’t object to her calling him Master instead of Lord Black.

Taking a deep breath, her brows furrowed as she glared up at him with her huge saucer-sized eyes and equally expressive ears. “Master Arcturus is getting his self all worked up in middle of night. Master won’t be able to sleep, no he won’t,” she warned sternly, wagging her long arthritic-looking finger at her charge. “Drink this hot chocolate Mipsy made for Master. No argues!” she remonstrated as he meekly took the cup and saucer that had appeared out of nowhere with a soft pop.

“I was just going to thank you, Mipsy, not argue with you.” He said mildly.

“As Master should. Better not to argue with Mipsy,” she murmured as she cleaned up his drinking session, muttering under her breath, “Nasty habit. Master will rot his gut drinking Thestral piss. Better sticking with cocoa,” she said tartly, as she popped away with the used glass, shaking her finger at him playfully.

At least Arcturus assumed it was playful. Mipsy was a force of nature and he had no intention of running afoul of the tiny elf – he didn’t want to be on her bad side. After all, he did pride himself on being one of the shrewdest wizards on the Wizengamot.

As he was fondly remembering his house elf’s dictatorial qualities, Potter’s long-anticipated Patronus hopped into his study to inform him that Dorea was in the final stages of labour and everything was proceeding normally. When he’d dared to laugh at the soft cuddly-looking rabbit Patronus of Charlus Potter and make a sarcastic remark about his less than manly form the first time he’d seen it, Dorea sprang to Charlus’ defence. In her experimental potion master persona, she’d leapt into the breach to inform her cousin sternly that as a healer, Charlus’ form made a lot of sense since the rabbit symbolised virtue, serenity, low curiosity, quiet talent, restrained passion; plus, it was also the special guardian of women during childbirth. Arcturus had to admit that seeing it now imbued him with a sense of reassurance and he realised that Dorea had got it right – it symbolised Potter’s healer nature.

Tidying his desk, sorting the parchments into signed and yet to be signed piles, he sighed and grabbed a heavy cloak due to the early morning chill. Taking a deep breath to help mentally prepare himself for the awkwardness to come, he turned on his heel and Apparated to the front door of the Seer’s green front door. Arcturus knocked several times before a dour-looking house-elf with overly large droopy ears (even for a house-elf) opened the door, bowing low to the Head of the Ancient and Noble House of Black, before ushering him inside to wait for his beloved mistress, Callisto Ollivander.

Callisto, a renowned seer in her own right was also a distant cousin to the famous and more than a little creepily weird wandmaker, Garrick Ollivander who for decades had created wands for every new witch and wizard in Britain. While the family could trace its roots back to Roman times as much sought after wandmakers, there was also a bunch of seers who emerged in their matriarchal line too. Luckily, in this generation, Callisto (who was an old friend of Cousin Cassiopeia) had been retained by Arcturus to assist them in what Dorea had taken to referring to their battle for genetic survival aka Operation Heir and a Spare or Operation H & S for short.

The strawberry blonde witch hurried into the cosy sitting room, smoothing down her unorthodox yet beautiful set of robes. The fabric shimmered in a way that reminded him of the fairy tale cloak of invisibility in the children’s book, Beetle the Bard which his mother, Hester, had read to him as a young wizard. It had sounded so wonderful, and yet the reality was that invisibility cloaks never shimmered and sparkled like that in true life. They were cloaks that the maker cast an invisibility charm upon – one that needed to re-charmed periodically depending upon how much magical use it received. But the real eye-catching feature of the seer’s set of robes were the colours. They were soft shades of blue which merged into foamy green and pale mauves, reminding him of waterlilies in a lake.

Apologising for keeping him waiting he smiled at her, “No need to apologise, Miss Ollivander. We have plenty of time, I’m sure. I stopped by because I can Apparate straight into Potter Keep as the wards have been set to accept me. Plus, the Potters have given permission for me to side Apparate you inside too since they are otherwise occupied right now.”

The petite blonde seer frowned exasperatedly. “As I’ve requested of you before, Lord Black, please call me Callisto or if you must, Seer. Miss Ollivander is far too formal for me. Seeing people’s future makes me feel like a bit of a voyeur, so I prefer not to stand on ceremony – and besides, in a month or two, if you insist on being formal, you will have to call me Mrs Abbott after I’m married. Trust me, Callisto is a whole lot easier.”

Arcturus bowed. “My apologies, my dear. And congratulations on your upcoming nuptials. How is Titus?”

“Can’t wait until we are married. Titus said his mum, aunts, and his sister Nellie are driving him crazy about the wedding. He wants to run away and get married in France.”

Arcturus chuckled. My mother, Hester Black and my mother-in-law, Myra McMillian turned into fierce harpies around eighteen months before Melania and I wed. It was the most miserable period in my life. I still don’t comprehend why witches insist that it takes that long to organise a ceremony and reception, however apparently it is secret witch business that no mere wizard could possibly understand,” he said with heavy irony.

Callisto looked suitably appalled. “I’m so glad that Titus isn’t the Heir to the House of Abbot. We’ve only had to endure a relatively brief six months of planning.”

He remembered belatedly that Callisto’s mother had died years before and she was an only child, so he figured that her father Gabrius was not a big wedding planner. He hoped that the Abbott family remembered to include the seer in their elaborate planning.

Making a mental note to send them a suitable wedding gift, he cordially offered the younger witch his arm before Apparating to the Potter’s reception room where Jaxie waited, obviously anticipating their imminent arrival. Perhaps the house-elves had their own way of communicating with each other and Callisto’s dour-looking elf had sent a message to Jaxie, alerting the Potter’s elf that they were on their way. It failed to occur to the wizard that maybe just maybe elf magic was older and infinitely more sensitive than his own and that the potter’s house-elf had detected Arcturus’ magic pushing against the wards and being let through.

Jaxie fetched them a cup of tea before departing as the slightly odd pair sat down to wait. From that point onwards, although there was a desultory conversation, mostly they sat in silence, each caught up in their own thoughts. He was thinking about what it would mean, both in practical terms and in more overarching and life-changing ways if this child turned out to be what they hoped he would be. Callisto meanwhile was no doubt contemplating her own presumably seer-types thoughts which he couldn’t begin to contemplate.

The time seemed to move as if someone had cast a spell turning it to stone, giving Arcturus far too much time to think about all the things that could possibly go wrong.

Arcturus reminded himself that at this point in their quest to turn around the family fortunes, they were in a much better place than last year. Waiting for the baby’s birth was even more stressful for them than normal because last year, Dorea had lost the first baby she was carrying after some lunatics had started abducting muggle-born witches. The four -months pregnant potions master had gone to the aid of a young Hogwarts’s witch who was being abducted outside Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour at Diagon Alley. Dorea who’d been out and about during her lunch break had fearlessly chased off the masked attacker after they had exchanged spells.

Unfortunately, one curse had sent her flying and into a wall which Charlus and the emergency healer at St Mungo had concluded, caused her to lose the child she was carrying. Whether it was due to a direct impact of the spell which hit her or as the result of her body impacting with the stone wall remained unclear. Sadly, the result was still the same, a miscarriage that had devastated them all.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the lusty screams of an infant forced to make an entrance despite themselves, rent the air. Shortly after that abrupt assault on their ears, Potter emerged to report on the baby’s sex – A BOY – and that the mother and baby were fine. He promised that they could soon examine the child but, in the meanwhile, Jaxie appeared with liquor – Fire Whiskey for Arcturus and elven wine for Callisto. He wasn’t sure if the alcohol was meant to be celebratory or a restorative for the agonisingly slow wait.

Whatever the motivation of the Potter’s elf, Arcturus was grateful for his attentiveness and felt the alcohol give him a renewed sense of vigour as they waited to be called into Dorea’s sitting room. Ten minutes later Charlus came for them, leading them into the sitting room off their bed chamber which was probably light and cheery during the day but of course, it was the middle of the night so soft lights were glowing. Charlus held a swaddled infant deftly in his arms and he approached Callisto who reached out a gentle hand and laid it on the infant. Her face immediately adopting a vacantness that the two wizards and Dorea associated with the otherworldliness of prophecy and spirits.

The magical temperature in the normally jolly room dropped suddenly and Arcturus couldn’t help shivering involuntarily, although he attempted to divert the Potter’s attention away from his lapse by stroking his chin hair thoughtfully. He felt a touch of impatience as he waited for the seer to assemble the accoutrements of her trade, her crystal bowl, candles, and antique mirror, all of which she had demonstrated before while trying to divine the infant’s sex and magical status. So far, she’d been firm about the child being a male (correct on that score) but unable to determine their level of magical ability.

Callisto had explained that was because a squib was not the same as a muggle. That they still had some level of magicality as a witch or wizard, just not enough power to enable them to cast magical spells with intent. They could still make potions and work with magical animals, their residual magical energy made it difficult to be able to distinguish between them and fully-fledged magical individuals, particularly when they were being shielded by their mother in vivo. Once the child was born, it had been her intention to conduct some different scrying and divination techniques, hoping that using a multi-modal approach might prove to be more sensitive to measuring the degree of magical ability.

Yet she made no move to begin setting up her experiments. In fact, her eyelids at half-mast, as if in a stupor, Callisto commenced speaking in a monotone, the lyric cadence of her natural speaking voice absent. A phenomenon which Arcturus found more than a little creepy.

Still physically connected to the infant Charlus held securely wrapped, she intoned:

“A wizard of destiny and power; born to challenge an evil most foul, casting its shadow over everything. Flawed by youthful pride, forged by undreamt-of suffering, tempered by fellowship, betrayal, misfortune, and conflict. Born in a time of immense upheaval, possessing equal measures of impulsive courage, loyal defender of equality, keen intellect, and shrewd strategic ability. He must learn to balance these gifts before he can inspire others to journey his path.”

Arcturus felt a shiver of ice run down his spine, and he knew without a shred of doubt that there in Potter’s arm lay his heir – the saviour of the Black Family. His son and heir.

It seemed Magic itself had smiled upon their honourable effort; he felt like the Ancient and Noble House of Black may yet retain its long-held status as the most powerful magical family in all Great Britain. Little did he know it, but the child possessed a much more ambitious and important destiny. One that had almost been over even before it started, even with all their planning.

Charlus was the one who quite literally saved the day when within hours of Sirius’ birth, he’d realised that all the obliviating of Walburga and Orion would be for naught because of that blasted enchanted family tree tapestry which would give the game away about Sirius parentage. Something that must not happen after all the planning and all the sacrifices that Melania, Charlus, Dorea and himself had gone through, especially Dorea and Charlus.

When reminded of the family heirloom, Arcturus remembered that his Great Aunt Eliadora having no issue of her own, had left the bloody thing to his Uncle Cygnus, who’d passed it to his eldest child Pollux. Knowing that his cousin’s wife Irma despised the tapestry, he’d given it to his daughter and his nephew as a wedding gift. Walburga had preened like a kneazle who’d caught a mouse at the presentation, and he knew that she valued it highly. That bloody magical artifact threatened to derail their meticulous planning which was when he resolved that it must be destroyed, despite its antiquity. Dorea was loathed to destroy such complex magic, so had come up with an alternative.

The trio had substituted a fake tapestry for the real one, securing it inside the Black family vault with instructions not to be opened before four generations had passed. It had taken the combined efforts of all three of them working on the intricate charm work to not only replicate it. They also had to fake the charms relating to the list of offspring for not just Orion and Walburga but also Arcturus and Dorea so that Sirius and any subsequent children weren’t revealed as being the issue of Arcturus and his cousin Dorea. Luckily, it had worked out as they intended and Walburga had been none the wiser to the substitution.

Potential crisis averted.

Chapter 8

December 10th, 1960.

Arcturus sank down into the soft leather armchair in the Potter’s reception room. Callisto Abbot nee Ollivander rubbed her lower back ruefully and smiled. She sat a little stiffly in the brown chesterfield armchair, her pregnancy clearly apparent beneath her softly falling robes. He noted that for this birth she wore a set of robes which were softly swirling wisps of colour: pinks, corals, yellows, and magentas. The fabric didn’t shimmer, unlike her robes from last year; they reminded him of soft clouds, of a gentle embrace, openness, warmth, and acceptance.

He noticed that the hues she wore complimented her glowing radiance. It was almost as if the seer was lit up from within by the infant she was carrying. She was also softly crooning under her breath and Arcturus hoped that she wasn’t in imminent danger of going into labour herself as they waited on what his Cousin Dorea had dubbed ‘Operation Spare.’ Since the safe arrival of Arcturus’ heir to the House of Black last November, the head of the House of Black felt a whole lot more grounded this year. Last year as they waited for news of Sirius’ birth, Arcturus had struggled to contain his anxiety and the wait time had felt like an eternity.

Of course, with the safe arrival of his precious heir last year, a lot of the pressure had fallen from his shoulders. And even though the boy was barely a year old, he was most assuredly the Black heir. Sirius Orion Black had been named after his great grandfather and father, although technically as Arcturus was his father, the boy was named for his grandfather and half-brother, not that Orion or Walburga knew that. As far as his son and daughter-in-law were concerned, baby Sirius was their biological child, just as they would believe this infant was theirs too, if it was a wizard.

Meanwhile, the research project carried out under the aegis of Dorea and her colleagues at the Dept. of Mysteries on identifying squibs had failed to yield definitive results and investigations were ongoing. Despite the lack of results, by the age of seven months, it had been established that Sirius Orion Black was indeed a wizard when he started summoning objects to his crib, mostly toys which he wanted to touch. His early magical abilities had been announced with great fanfare by Orion and Walburga even though they were still in Bulgaria. There had been a flurry of owls and floo calls and Arcturus decided to verify their claims because it was not unheard of that new parents might exaggerate the exploits of their offspring, particularly when it was their first.

Still, when he arrived at the Black flower farm in Kazanlak, Bulgaria (which had been in the family since the early 1700s) he found an exceptionally precocious wizard who was indeed summoning toys and other objects such as flowers and insects when he was outdoors. Dorea had been overly excited that they knew that his blood which they had been examining was now known to be a wizard might enable them to move their research into the dimension of the magical ability which was expressed as strong, moderate, and weak which categorised a witch/wizard at one extreme of the dimension and a squib at the other extreme.

Arcturus certainly felt calmer than he had last year even though the birth had been everything that could have dreamed of. He was aware though that Dorea was less confident about the gender of this baby, however he was more sanguine about the outcome. If worst came to worst, he felt that they had done their duty, a spare would be nice but if it didn’t eventuate, he was still pleased with the result.

A little while later, Charlus brought him and Callisto Abbot into Dorea’s sitting room attached to her bedchamber to find the witch clutching a tiny, swaddled infant. Smiling a little regretfully at her cousin she announced, “I regret to inform you Lord Black that this child is female.”

Arcturus shrugged. “Are you both well?” he inquired politely, trying not to show any disappointment.

Dorea nodded formally. “We are, Lord Black,” she nodded with a composure that was befitting a true daughter of his House.

“I am relieved to hear that,” he smiled at her with genuine concern.

He snatched a brief glance at his…their daughter before ruthlessly suppressing any paternal feelings for the child. Melania would never accept her; it would be cruel and selfish of him to force his wife to raise a daughter from another woman. He knew all along that this was the price he must pay. At least with Sirius, he could interact with the boy as his grandfather.

He soon took his leave after reiterating that he voluntarily surrendered his rights to the baby, relinquishing decisions about her future care to her mother.

Arcturus was not exactly surprised that Dorea announced to the family a couple of days later the arrival of a baby girl that she and Charlus had named Pegasus Iola Potter. Although there had been some surprise that they hadn’t informed anyone of her pregnancy, they’d passed it off as deciding not to tempt fate after she had lost a baby last year.  As he watched the joy of the happy parents, Arcturus couldn’t help feeling a sneaking sense of admiration for Charlus who was willing to adopt another wizard’s offspring but perhaps bringing it into the world had encouraged bonding. He just hoped it wouldn’t end in disaster.

He couldn’t help being secretly amused by the naming of the infant – Dorea had followed the family tradition of naming children after constellations but the name Iola was for their disowned great aunt, sister of Phineas Nigellus Black who’d married a muggle, Bob Hitchens. He wondered if she was in contact with their great aunt; after all, she’d practically confessed that she still talked with her Squib brother and hinted that she was in contact with Uncle Nigellus who were disowned too. He certainly wouldn’t put it past her. Underneath her patina of proper Black decorum, she was something a rebel.

25th February 1962

Arcturus sighed as he escorted Callisto Abbot through the wards of the Potter residence for the third and final time. Arcturus’ agreement with Dorea was that there would be up to four pregnancies to satisfy their bargain. Counting the one which she lost back in early 1958, this was her fourth and final pregnancy, regardless of if this one was a wizard. To be honest, he wasn’t all that worried about what they’d jokingly called having a spare – if it happened it would certainly be good but if they weren’t lucky enough to get another wizard, Arcturus was still happy with how things had worked out.

It wasn’t just his heir that had helped the family fortunes either. Dorea had been right about Charlus and his skill with fertility problems. His sister Lycoris and her wizard Tolliver Greengrass had finally had a baby after years of heartbreak and hopelessness. Granted, her age was against her but and Charlus had made her spend the last two months on bedrest until she had been ready to deliver. He’d made daily visits during that time to monitor and encourage her. Arcturus could not fault his care or professionalism.

The healer had tried to explain to him about how Lycoris’ fallopian tubes… he really tried hard not to listen when Charlus started talking about female baby-making bits… had ended up being scarred. Arcturus had suspected it was because of the stupid schoolgirl spell that his sister had been working on that had rebounded, putting her into the infirmary at Hogwarts.

When he’d expressed that opinion to Potter though, Charlus shook his head. “Maybe it caused it but not necessarily, Arcturus. This scarring of the fallopian tubes is something that happens to quite a lot of females – both witches and muggles. Yes, it might have happened that way, but it equally might not have had anything to do with the spell she was trying to cast. Not that it matters now – what does matters is what to do about it.”

After determining why Lycoris had never been able to conceive, the healer had gone away and mulled over how to fix the issue. According to Dorea, he’d shut himself up in his study every night for a month, spoken at length to some colleagues and poured over books and journals before enlisting his wife’s help to come up with an experimental potion. Dorea said that they had borrowed elements from a burn cream which was recognised for its properties in preventing the formation of scars from forming, rejigging it to break down scar tissue. It also had regenerative properties fashioned after some of the elements of the bone regenerator Skele-Grow and the strongly calmative elements of the cosmetic Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion used by witches to relax frizzy hair. The potion was a complex one, it took months to brew initially then more time to refine before they were ready to give it to Lycoris.

Approximately six months after that Lycoris had gotten with child after what her partner Toliver had described rather unchivalrously as several months of non-stop congress which saw him scoffing down multiple Pepperup Potions every day to aid in his stamina. Unfortunately, at almost eleven weeks, she lost the child and Charlus had forbidden her from trying again for at least six months to let her body recover from the trauma. He prescribed a fitness program consisting of nutrients and potions, exercise such as swimming, hiking and meditation to help prepare her for the stress of carrying a child so late in her child-bearing years.

And it had worked! This time after conceiving, she had kept the baby having a healthy boy named Phineas. Meanwhile, Melania organised a simple but elegant wedding ceremony for Lycoris and Tolliver Greengrass, her longstanding partner and father of the baby. The marriage had taken place as soon as it was practical after Lycoris delivering the child. Both his sister and Greengrass were ecstatic about his birth and had become Charlus Potter’s most vocal fans, honouring him by calling the lad Phineas Charlus Greengrass.

Charlus success didn’t stop there, either. With his beloved daughter Lucretia, the proud mother of twin sons she’d named Aaron and Ares, Arcturus was a slightly less vocal but nonetheless fervent supporter of the healer who’d joined their family. When he’d asked Potter if Lucretia’ egg tubes were scarred too, he chuckled.

“No, they were fine. She is fertile, it’s Prewitt that has a low testosterone count. That’s why she wasn’t conceiving. But of course, I couldn’t tell him that or he would have refused to believe he was the problem. He wouldn’t have cooperate with the regime of potions and a testosterone boosting diet to increase his fertility. That’s why I had Lucretia taking a potion too and following a special diet, although hers was basically a tonic to ensure she was in optimal health.”

“But all the healers said it was Lucretia who was infertile,” Arcturus protested. “So, either they were lying or were all incompetent?”

Charlus looked grave. “Magical folk can be quite old fashioned about sexual health and reproduction. When a couple can’t conceive, we immediately think it’s the witch who must be to blame, which is foolish. After all, would you blame the oven for not baking a cake properly if the cook didn’t put all the ingredient into the pan? When it comes to fertility, wizards don’t want to think that their virility might be called into question? It’s just easier to blame the witch but if you don’t address the real problem then how can you hope to fix it?”

“So, how did you persuade Ignatius to cooperate.”

“I told him that somehow her magic had become too strong. I might have hinted that someone had at some point cast a birth control charm that was too strong and that was what was interfering in her falling pregnant. I recommended that he work on doubling his virility to overpower hers, but I told him that only the most powerful wizards could succeed.”

“So, you tricked him?”

The healer chuckled. “I prefer to think of it as preserving his fragile wizard pride while encouraging him to follow the treatment program necessary to achieve the desired outcome.”

“And how did you explain Lucretia’s potion taking?”

“To weaken the anti-conception charm of course,” Charlus said promptly. “And as Prewitt has now sired two mischievous lads – how could he possibly complain about that?”

Arcturus couldn’t argue that Charlus’ skills had proved highly effective both in his knowledge about fertility and his equally smooth handling of Prewitt. Two of the most important witches in his life (his sister and daughter) were mothers or soon would be because of his skills so how could he be anything but happy with those results. Just as important, Melania was now a besotted grandmother to Lucretia’s young imps, a surprise which was totally unexpected and had helped take some of the sting out of him fathering Sirius Orion Black and Pegasus Potter.

All in all, he would admit that allowing Dorea to marry Charlus hadn’t been such a bad decision as he’d feared. The fact was that (even with his egalitarian political view), he was more of an asset than most of the pureblood families who’d married other daughters of the House of Black. His ability to pick the brain of Fleamont Potter – inventor of Sleekeazy Hair Potions about the calmative properties had been key in helping Lycoris. As had his unique access to Linfred of Stinchcombe’s scientific journals and diaries, which Charlus credited with giving him valuable proprietary data into the regenerative elements of Skele-Gro and Pepperup Potions helping him develop his treatment.

Charlus had been able to access Linfred’s scientific writings because the 12th-century apothecary and botanist who’d offered cures for ague and pox to muggles, used that money to develop the famous and ground-breaking Skele-Gro and Pepperup Potions. The muggle peasantry had called Linfred “The Potterer” which had in turn become Potter, Charlus’ ancestor. It was entirely possible that without his family’s history of muggle interaction, Lycoris would not be about to achieve her desire of becoming a mother.

Arcturus had to admit that selling cures to muggles, while certainly altruistic, also demonstrated some sharp business acumen by the ‘first Potter’ way back in the 12th century. And when it was all said and done, business acumen was a quality that he greatly admired – after all, a proportion of the Black businesses sold their stock to the muggle market for a very handsome profit. The Black Rose farm in Kazanlak was a prime example in that the great majority of the flowers were sold to make muggle perfumes and cosmetics turned a considerable profit.

When Arcturus and Callisto arrived at Potter’s Keep for the final birth, he was a little taken aback to encounter Cassiopeia reading a bedtime story to Pegasus. Trying hard not to stare at the undeniably cute little dark-haired imp, he was relieved beyond words when his discreet cousin rose swiftly, gathering the child up into her arms and whisking her away to her bedroom. The blonde witch flashing an empathetic glance at him as they passed, knowing of course who Pegasus was to him.

Arcturus was happy that he rarely saw the child; only on formal occasions did the whole family gather and when they did, all the very young children tended to be kept out of sight. Even with Sirius, he saw the boy infrequently but as the boy’s acknowledged paternal grandfather he had an excuse to interact with him. However, it would be considered quite odd for Arcturus to be seen taking undue interest in Pegasus Potter.

Therefore, he preferred to pretend that she didn’t exist. Indeed, a tiny voice whispered that if she were a squib, he’d have a bloody good reason to never see her again, but even he was so heartless to wish that fate on Dorea and Charlus, who both seemed to be doting parents He didn’t think they would endure such a loss.

In fact, he knew that even though the whole mission to be able to detect whether an infant had sufficient magical power to be classed as a witch or wizard had yet to reach its goal, his cousin was still fiercely determined to find a way to identify squibs. Arcturus was not so heavily invested in the research, maybe in part because it had been about finding an heir – which they’d already achieved. He realised that Dorea was not prepared to let all her work go to waste, though. Last week she had informed him that she had requested to study her brother Marius’ blood and compared it with the blood they had collected from other members of the family.

So far, she told him that they’d found several anomalies, for instance, her brother’s squib blood tended to have lower levels of iron, which she and Charlus had theorised might explain why magical folk had a longer life expectancy. Maybe that was why magical folk tended to be immune to many of the muggle diseases unlike squibs. Dorea decided they needed a lot more squibs to agree to give their blood and perhaps even more difficult to obtain, they needed to get their hands on muggle blood to determine if squibs were like muggles or different.

Arcturus knew that his cousin was waiting for a positive sign that Pegasus was a witch – there had been no signs of accidental magic at this point, but there weren’t in most 14-month-old infants. However, she had compared her blood to Marius and her blood was not like her brother’s, although it didn’t prove that she wasn’t a squib. Charlus had pointed out that the differences she and Charlus had detected in his blood might have been due to Marius having an undiagnosed medical condition, hence their need to obtain blood from a large group of squibs to find out.

As Cassiopeia removed Pegasus from his presence, he noticed that Callisto was watching on sympathetically, being one of the select few who knew the truth about the child’s parentage. Occasionally when the seer would report her impressions on various business schemes he interested in, she would share stories of her daughter, Pandora. Once she’d shown him pictures of Pandora’s first birthday which Pegasus had attended with her mother.  He’d greedily stared at the images of Pegasus and he saw a toddler who had the typical Black dark hair and greyish blue eyes. They were his eyes, while Sirius had taken after Dorea with his silvery-grey eyes.

In the photos, he’d had a chance to see that Pegasus (or Pip as Callisto informed him that the Potters had nicknamed the child) was a joyful and smiley child. He watched her moving, noting she had a leonine sense of grace, a typical attribute of many a Black before her.

He was grateful that Callisto, with her usual tact and discretion, had given him a chance to see Pegasus under the guise of showing off her own much-loved daughter, a blonde-haired green-eyed little minx if ever he saw one. Even if Pandora were only a year old, he reckoned she’d break plenty of hearts when she was older, but as adorable as she was, he only had eyes for Pegasus. He cherished the picture of the two practically toothless little girls wearing party hats she had slipped him. She was a witch he greatly admired and not for the first time he wished that Orion had had the good sense to snap Callisto up instead of batshit crazy Walburga.

He looked at her well-cut robes, artfully showing of her sylph-like figure, noting that she no longer seemed to be favouring pastel hues and translucent watercolour-like patterns. Instead, she was opting for richer and more dense colours: teals, turquoises, cobalt blues, violets, purples, and magentas. It made her appear more grounded, less wraith-like and ethereal but still stunningly beautiful. Her change of image occurred after the birth of her daughter, Pandora and he wondered how motherhood might affect the seer’s otherworldly abilities? He also wondered if little Pandora Abbot would inherit the gift of second sight like her mother, grandmother, and countless generations of Ollivander witches before her. Time would tell, just as it would reveal if Pandora and Pegasus were witches.

As loud wailing cut through his musing as he realised that the infant had arrived. Callisto had stated that she thought this one was another boy but when Potter didn’t immediately appear, he decided that it was another girl. Obviously, he’d been hoping for another wizard to shore up the line of succession but the whole heir and a spare idea had come about as a way of taking Dorea done a peg or two for being so damned right and more to the point, so damned smug about it. Initially, he would have been mighty grateful for the gift of Sirius, who Arcturus was confident was going to make an excellent heir. So, he’d steeled himself not to expect a boy when for the third and final time, the Potters’ house-elf Jaxy ushered them into Dorea’s sitting room.

Charlus once again had this infant swaddled and held it in his arm protectively. Dorea looked wan; exhausted as she motioned them to take a seat.

Potter sighed tiredly as he looked over at Arcturus. “My apologies for not updating you sooner. He gave us a bit of a scare and it took time to stabilise him.”

Arcturus glanced at Dorea and noted that her hands were clasped together so tightly that her knuckles were bone white, so he felt it had to be something quite serious. She wasn’t one to panic easily and as an experienced healer, he rather thought Potter wasn’t either.

Wait…did Charlus just say that the baby was male?

“A boy you said?”

The healer nodded. “I did. More than that I cannot say, and I regret to tell you that I must insist we wait for 24 hours before we carry out any testing. The boy needs to rest.”

Arcturus wanted to argue but one look at his cousin’s face and he realised that this was as hard on her as it was on him, harder since she’d just given birth. So, he nodded his understanding somewhat curtly. “Do what is necessary, Potter.”

He looked at his cousin and gave her a questioning look. “Are you okay, Dory?” he said, deliberately using Cassiopeia’s pet name for her sister to let her know he was asking as family, not as her Head of House.

“I will be,” she said, which meant that she wasn’t now.

He frowned at her deflection and Charlus stepped in smoothly. “Cassie is taking Pegasus and Dorea to our cottage in Cornwall for a couple of days. I will stay here with the boy. If he is still stable after 24 hours, we can do the testing.”

Arcturus nodded. “Send a Patronus and I will come.”

Shortly afterwards he escorted Callisto home and tumbled into bed in his spare bed he sometimes used off his study. Although he and Melania, unlike many couples of their station and generation still shared a marital bed, when he was working late on House business, he would grab a few hours of sleep without disturbing his witch.

The next day they reconvened at Potters Keep and he had a chance to study his issue carefully. Arcturus and Dorea had discussed how it was important not to use the word son, not even mentally since they might be his biological parents but in every other sense of the word, the child was the son of Walburga and Orion. It only made it harder than it had to be, Dorea said dispassionately if they thought of him that way. Still, it was easier said than done to remain objective around the children he’d sired, and he suspected that Dorea wasn’t quite as detached as she projected.

Having the opportunity to see Pegasus the day before had somehow brought home to him that this was his child. A child he who he could never acknowledge. It made him question if his plan to save the Black Family was the right decision – he and Dorea were consenting adults but what of Sirius, Pandora and this boy who looked like a slightly smaller version of his older brother. Did they have the right to knowingly bring them into this world and deny them their true birthright?

As the seer studied what he hoped would prove to be their ‘spare’ to see if she could determine his magical ability, she once again dropped into a meditative state to share a vision. Once again Arcturus’ blood chilled as Callisto began to speak in that weird monotone voice:

“A child of destiny. Born to stumble, to follow others. Born to choose darkness, to follow evil. Born to cause untold pain, to seek redemption. Born to strive, to fight with the forces of right over might. Born to sacrifice, to defeat evil. Born to choose.”

Meanwhile, the interim testing of the boy by Charlus sans Dorea, was that his profile was much more like Sirius and Pandora, yet not identical and a lot more dissimilar to Marius. So, while all of them were of the view that he was more likely than not to be a wizard, it was still not conclusive. However, as with Sirius, it was grounds enough to place him with Walburga and Orion. He would take the child to Kazanlak and obliviate his son and daughter-in-law and order the house elves to secrecy. He knew from Orion that Sirius would be thrilled to have a brother, as he was pestering them for a sibling to play with.

As he handed over the child to Walburga who cooed maternally at the infant, he tried to tell himself that this baby would do what Sirius had failed to do; to halt her slide into increasing madness. He ignored the inner voice that asked was it wise to leave this child with her. He deliberately pushed to the back of his mind the prophecy delivered by Callisto with its disheartening predictions just as he had done his level best to ignore what she had said about Sirius.

He told himself that he didn’t believe in prophecies. Oh sure, he was willing to accept that a seer might divine if a baby was a girl or boy, if they had magical power or were a squib, even which quidditch team might win a match. But this whole saving or dooming the world gibberish… not so much!

No, Sirius had enough on his plate ensuring that the House of Black remained at the seat of power in the wizarding world of Great Britain. To suggest that the world might somehow be imperilled one day and need a saviour was ludicrous. Good and evil did not exist in a vacuum – neither could exist without the other to balance them, like a pendulum in a clock – it swung back and forth in perpetual motion. It was the centrists who possessed the true power; letting the likes of Gellert Grindelwald and Dumbledore fight it out while the real deals took place in the shadowy greys. And the Ancient and Noble House of Black, despite their name and their ownership of a quite formidable repository of texts regarding the dark arts of witchcraft and wizardry were very accomplished shadow-dwellers.

What Arcturus had no way of knowing was that unlike heroes and villains of the past who’d struggled for supremacy, a new evil was stirring. It would change all the immutable rules of nature by which the Blacks had relied upon for centuries to maintain primacy. An evil that sought to defy mortality and forever change the balance of good versus evil.

An evil that must be defeated!

 


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SASundance

Writer and reader from down under, obsessive filler of pot-holes um plot holes. You can find me at A03 and fanfic.net under my pen name SASundance

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