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The Difference Between Black and Black
I sat in shock for several minutes after Bellatrix left.
‘Master Regulus, can Kreacher get you a glass of wine? Build a fire?’
I started. I had not noticed him shuffle into the drawing room. ‘No. Leave me.’ I waved him away. I needed to be alone with my thoughts.
It was one thing to torture and kill Muggles. They weren’t the same as us pure-bloods, everyone knew that. My mother taught me that when I was very young. But to kill someone who’s a member of your family? A pure-blood? Because she wouldn’t share some trifling object she owned? Kill, like Bella was ready to do?
I wondered about this relative. I didn’t know her name or what this trinket was. I didn’t know why her name was blasted off the tapestry or if that had anything to do with this gift. Was she a distant relative? How was she related to Father? Was she also related to Mum? Where did she live? Did she have brothers or sisters? Was she married? Did she have children? Did she have grey eyes like me? Was she my age?
No, that wasn’t possible, since she was trying to pass this gift to someone in the next generation—the specimen—and that was some time ago. Maybe even before I was born. Did she pay Mum a visit after my birth, or was she blasted off before then?
And why was she blasted off? Did she know that she wasn’t on the tapestry anymore? Your family will never leave you, unless you force them to leave. My mother had told us that every time she sent us away to an uncle’s house.
And it’s what Mum taught me the day Sirius left for Hogwarts.
It was the first of September and everyone was making a fuss over Sirius.
Father was instructing Kreacher to bring Sirius’ trunk downstairs. Mother was asking Sirius if he had remembered to pack everything on his list. I was sitting quietly on the bottom stair of the first landing. I thought that if I didn’t go to see Sirius off at Platform 9 ¾, he wouldn’t really go away. I didn’t really believe it, but I was grasping for anything that would make Sirius stay with me.
I did not want him to leave.
But I knew that he would be going to school. Father would not have been there if Sirius wasn’t going.
The three of them were standing at the foot of the stairs. ‘How much money did you give him?’ Father asked Mother.
‘Enough for the Black heir his first year,’ she said proudly.
I could hear Kreacher magicking Sirius’ trunk down the stairs, but I didn’t move to get out the way. I regretted that decision when the trunk cracked me on the head. I howled in pain and Mother rushed up to see to me, yelling at Kreacher along the way.
Father used that diversion to slip Sirius some more gold.
Mother sorted me out with a gentle touch of her wand and reached her hand out to me. ‘Come, Regulus, we’re taking your brother to meet the Hogwarts Express,’ she said rather imperially. I had no choice but to take her hand and be led out the door.
The platform was very crowded, but Father had no trouble immediately finding Uncle and Aunt Black, and Bellatrix, Andromeda and Narcissa. I dropped my mother’s hand as soon as I spotted my cousins. I didn’t want Bellatrix to tease me that I was still Mother’s baby. I didn’t have to worry, as the girls spotted their friends and left.
Father and Uncle Black huddled together and whispered in hushed tones. Mother and Aunt Black chatted with one of their friends. Everyone was so tall. I suddenly felt very childish and very alone.
Sirius pulled me aside. ‘Regulus, don’t cry.’
‘I’m not crying!’ I said loudly. A couple of girls—they looked to be Andromeda’s age—looked around at us. My face flushed. They wouldn’t look away.
‘Good, because you shouldn’t be sad.’
‘Because you get to have Mum and Dad to yourself, and the governess,’ he added as an afterthought.
‘I don’t want to be a lone with Mum and Dad, Sirius.’ I shivered. ‘You’re going away and you get to learn how to do magic, and you’ll make friends and forget all about me.’
‘I won’t forget about you, Regulus. You’re my brother. And you’ll come to Hogwarts, too, and you’ll learn how to do magic. Mum and Dad will let you get away with everything, just tell that you’re bored without me.’
‘But I will be bored without you!’ Those two girls giggled. I flushed again.
He pulled me away from the girls, out of their line of sight. ‘Regulus,’ he said, suddenly serious, ‘promise me something.’
‘What?’ I was eager to do anything for him right then, when I was afraid of missing him.
But before he could say anything—not even a proper good-bye—Mother was rushing him to get on the train. He gave her a hurried hug good-bye. Father was nowhere to be found. He dragged his trunk on the train with Andromeda’s help. Soon he was leaning out the window waving and making faces at me. Mother scolded him. He pressed his face and hands against the window and watched us as long as he could, until the tracks curved and he was out of sight.
Mother and I walked back to Grimmauld Place in silence. The governess had the day off, so Mother sent me up to my room to “play quietly”. I was glad for the excuse to be alone.
I sat on my bed with my back toward the door most of the day, alternately mad that he left without saying good-bye to me and missing him desperately. At dinnertime, I refused to go downstairs when my mother summoned me. Kreacher shuffled away muttering under his breath.
A few minutes later, I heard her coming up the stairs quite briskly. ‘Regulus! You need to come when I call you!’ Mother said, sounding very irritated. She opened the door without knocking. Something must have melted her hardened heart because she sat down next to me and put her hand on my back.
That’s when I started to cry.
‘Regulus, don’t cry. Sirius will be back before you know it.’
‘N-n-no he w-w-won’t! It won’t be the same. He’ll just want to b-b-be with his friends.’
‘Regulus, don’t you remember what I’ve told you? You will find that your friends will some day leave you, but your family will always be your family. They will not leave you unless you force them to leave.’
I glanced at the cabinet Bella had just searched. My mother kept countless heirlooms in there. I did not think that she’d give any of those things up willingly, even to the Dark Lord. She had been saving them to split between me and Sirius. Now the heirlooms would all be mine.
‘Regulus! Is something wrong?’ Mum was standing in the doorway, clutching her dressing gown closed at her neck. She looked quite alarmed. ‘Kreacher woke me up and told me you were down here. Why aren’t you at your flat?’
I stood up. ‘Bellatrix needed to do some research, Mother. She borrowed Nature’s Nobility, but she didn’t want to wake you. I hope that’s all right.’
‘Research on her pure-blooded family?’ She looked delighted, then suspicious. ‘Is this for the—the Dark Lord?’
I didn’t want to tell her yes or no. Even if she had been proud that I had aligned myself with other pure-bloods with proper wizarding feeling, it was safer for her not to know. I changed the subject. ‘Mother, Bellatrix said that we have a relative by the name of Diamond or Fawcett or Prewett—we’re not sure which—that has a gift, a special gift. One that is passed on between generations and that causes madness.’
She sat down next to me, looking thoughtful. ‘I remember Elladora talking about a branch of blood-traitors, the Diamonds, who had a gift that was passed through generations. I believe that the last recipient of the gift was a woman—Ronnie Diamond. I don’t remember her married name, some other blood-traitor family, no doubt.’ She looked scornful.
A gift that causes madness. He’ll use it as a weapon, I thought. ‘What kind of weapon do you think it is?’
‘It’s not a weapon or an heirloom that can be passed on, Regulus. It’s a gift of magic.’
‘A gift of magic?’ I repeated. I wondered if Bella knew that.
Mum nodded. ‘I think the power, if used incorrectly, can cause madness, but that’s not the purpose of the magic.’
‘What’s the purpose?’ I asked. My eyes must have been open wide with curiosity, because Mum reached out and smoothed my hair back, like she used to do when she sat on my bed and answered all my questions.
‘It’s to keep people young, or to make them younger, or to extend one’s life.’
Why does the Dark Lord want it, then? Bellatrix probably knows the answer to that. Mum looked at me curiously. Before she could ask what I was thinking, I asked, ‘This family, the Diamonds, they’re blood-traitors?’
She nodded as a dark look came over her eyes. She glanced at the tapestry. ‘You are a pure-blood wizard, Regulus, be proud of that. Please,’ she had a hint of urgency in her voice, ‘always remember that.’
You’ll remember that, won’t you? ‘Mother, do you remember that fairy story you used to tell us?’
‘What fairy story, Regulus?’
My mother was not senile. Skeptical, intractable, and fanatical: yes. Hysterical: more often than not. Senile: no. Why doesn’t she remember? I thought. It was the only story she ever told us. ‘You know, the one about Jacinda and Carina and Auriga, and the girl covered in soot, Elle,’ I added as an afterthought.
‘That wasn’t a fairy story.’
‘No, dear, that really happened.’
‘Yes, it did.’ She walked over to the tapestry. “The Most Noble and Ancient House of Black,” it said. Toujours Pur. She looked at it for a few moments, then traced a line with her finger lovingly. ‘Here,’ she said and pointed to a name in the upper left hand quadrant.
I took a closer look. Count Equuleus Dark was linked by double gold embroidered lines to Jacinda Autran. They were connected to by two more lines to their daughters, Carina and Auriga Dark.
I turned, gaping at my mother. ‘Jacinda was real? And Carina and Auriga?’
‘Yes. Carina was Phineas Nigellus’s great-great-grandmother.’
‘And Jacinda and her husband, they were really a count and countess?’
‘True nobility, dear.’ She looked obscenely proud.
All this time and I hadn’t know. I hadn’t realized that my mother was telling me our family history. “The Most Noble and Ancient House of Black.” Toujours Pur.
‘Mother… where did Jacinda and Carina and Auriga escape to?’
She thought a moment. ‘They went back to Jacinda’s family.’ Her eyes clouded over and I knew she was thinking about Sirius.
‘Did he know that Jacinda was family? Sirius, did he know?’ I asked quietly.
She dropped her gaze. I could tell she was looking at the hole she had made in the tapestry when she blasted off his name. Even though she was very angry when he left, it tore her up inside. She locked herself up in her room for many days and cried. She came out of her room a very different witch indeed.
My mother turned away from me and walked away. At the door, she stopped and replied quietly, ‘No, he didn’t know. He wouldn’t let me tell him.’
I had been right.
Sirius—as I knew him—didn’t come back. The summer after his first year, our parents put us in different bedrooms. He still joked around, spent as much time alone with me as he could, but he was different.
Mother and Father’s initial outrage at Sirius being sorted into Gryffindor House had simmered down, but they still had discussions behind closed doors about him—when Father was home. Sirius seemed to know what they were discussing, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was about.
Two weeks after Sirius came home, we left on holiday to Greece as we normally did. Uncle and Aunt Black and their daughters joined us for a few days. Bellatrix was the one who finally told me what had happened—Sirius had been dorm mates and good friends with half-bloods and Muggle-borns. My parents were trying to get his dormitory switched. But Sirius didn’t want to be switched.
He was leaving and he wasn’t saying good-bye.
A/N: Do you know what I think? I think that Mrs. Black became the portrait we all know after she lost both her sons. She’s progressing a bit, don’t you think?
As always, I thank Chary for listening to my ideas, and for Warner Bros./Bloomsbury/Scholastic/J.K. Rowling for not suing me.