You can see the stars up here...bright,
crystalline fragments of light...so clear, so cold….
The stars are very important to my Family;
we’re all named after them, apart from my cousin Narcissa. That’s only because
her mother, Druella, is rather dim and couldn’t think of another star-related
name. When the rest of the Family found out, they were furious, but the damage
was done. The baby was named and there was nothing they could do about it. At
first, they were very worried because dear Cissy didn’t even look like a
Black. She took after her mother with her white-blonde hair and high
forehead. That, combined with her name, convinced the family that she would be
a disgrace. Fortunately, all the extra attention turned Narcissa into the
perfect little Black. Personally, I never liked
her. When, as a young child, I was told that story about Narcissa, I had always
wondered why the star names were so important. Strangely enough, it was my
father who satisfied my curiosity in one of our rare conversations.
I had just turned seven, and it was about a
week after my birthday. The birthday itself was a subdued affair with only
close family invited. However, since this was the Black Family, it had meant
the whole house was stuffed full of adults making dull conversation. I had
realised, long before, that things like birthdays were only an excuse for the
adults to meet and gossip; the children were sent up to the small sitting room
on the second floor where we were expected to entertain ourselves.
We did this in our various ways: Andromeda
hid herself in a book, Narcissa sat on the windowsill and complained (not about
anything in particular - just general complaining), and Bellatrix demanded that
Regulus and I help her practise spells for school. I had been on the receiving
end of her wand-work before, and quite sensibly refused using the reasonable
excuse that I was the birthday boy. Regulus, on the other hand, worshiped her
and was quite willing to be her test subject.
Now, normally, I wouldn’t have minded - if
he was stupid enough to volunteer he deserved what was coming to him. But I
suddenly felt a surge of compassion for the little twerp, it wasn’t his fault
that Bella was nine years older than him, and in our parents' eyes a much
better person to idolise than me. It wasn’t his fault that even at twelve she
had the ability to compel obedience, with force if necessary. Still, I
shouldn’t have interfered, Bella was the oldest and had ordered the rest of us
around for as long as I could remember. I shouldn’t have interfered, but I
The cousins left the next day, all saying
goodbye in their customary fashion: Andromeda hugged me and told me she would
write, Bellatrix gave me a savage pinch, and Narcissa just smirked. Later that
day I was I was summoned to my father's office, a place that I was normally
forbidden from entering on pain of, well, pain. My parents were people
who believed the saying “Spare the rod and spoil the child”. Now, in my mind,
this wasn’t nearly as bad as their belief in the saying “Spare the
mind-numbingly boring speeches about purity of blood...and spoil the child.”
I think this was the main reason I turned
against my Family. I was (and still am) one of those people who - if you said
“black” - would immediately say “white”. Speeches on blood pride had the
opposite effect on me compared to the result my parents wanted. Of course they
didn’t realise this; long speeches and other traditional methods had always
worked before. Why should it be any different with their son?
At that point, The Family didn’t realise
how far off the rails Andromeda had gone; she was the “weak” one in between two
very strong sisters. They had better things to think about than quiet, bookish
Andromeda; she would never dare say anything to contradict her Family, but They
could not have been more wrong. At home, she spent most of her time reading.
When she did venture out of her room, Narcissa and Bellatrix appeared out of
nowhere to flank her. Things would change when she got to Hogwarts though.
The year after my seventh birthday,
Andromeda was Sorted into Ravenclaw and thus taken away from the beady eyes of
her sisters. It was quite amazing - the transformation she went through after
that. She used to send me long letters detailing her experiences in Ravenclaw:
the lessons, the Quidditch matches, and the hours she spent in the library.
And her friends, she talked about her friends even more than she talked about
her books. This was quite a feat, since she talked about her books almost all
of the time. She was reading about viewpoints that she had never known existed
before then. She told me about books on politics, policies, and prejudice; a
whole new world was opening for her, a world that the Black family did not want
us to know about.
At home, however, she reverted back to her
old self - always hiding behind a huge tome. She hoped that They would forget
about her; she never stood up for herself or her newfound beliefs. She would
never have gone as far as she did without Ted. Without him she would probably
still be stuck between her two sisters, helpless to change her stars…I always
Anyway, back to my impending lecture...I
think that my darling Auntie had had a word with my father about my behaviour
towards her beloved girls. She did the same thing at the end of every visit so
it wasn’t that much of a guess. Just before leaving, she would sidle up to him
in a fashion that she obviously thought was unobtrusive, and say “A word in
your ear.” in a whisper that half the house could hear.
Despite the fact that it was my father to
whom she aired her grievances, he normally delegated the onerous task of
talking "at" me to Mum. Unfortunately (for him at least), she was
ill, holed up in bed with some strange disease. While being as weak as a
kitten, she still had full use of her vocal cords. This was useful for my mum
since the only being that went near her was Kreacher, and he lived at the
bottom of the house. You would have thought that the non-invalids of the house
would have had a hard time of it. Mum tended to want things at the most
inconvenient times; we would be woken from slumber by her "dulcet"
tones, and disturbed during lunch. This would have been hard on us but,
compared to usual, Mum was relatively quiet. I think we all found it quite
The only downside (from Father's point of
view) was that he had to take care of certain tasks in her absence, such as
spending time with his eldest son. In my opinion, though, anything was better
than Mum telling me exactly how I had failed her this time.
The only thing I
didn’t like about the lecture was the formality that went with it. I had to wait in the formal drawing room for my father’s summons,
because the patriarch of the Black family wasn’t supposed to know that common
rooms, such as the playroom, existed. I didn’t like the formal drawing room
with its straight-backed, hard chairs; malevolent mantelpiece; and heavy
atmosphere of disuse, tradition and pride.
Every year, at Christmas, the children
would be brought down to this room; the Family would then be informed of
the great events of our year, good and bad. The cross-examination that
followed was agony for me; the way They peered at you, discussed you, and
finally reached a verdict, was one of the worst times of the year. This was
mainly because the conclusion They came to was never a good one, and the
splendid presents that came afterward never made up for Their stares and
So I sat in a room that held only bad
memories, wearing my third-best set of robes in honour of the momentous
occasion of my father addressing me in person. The stiff black satin of my
robes, although quite grand and expensive, was scratchy and uncomfortable; the
high collar, which was fashionable at the time, dug into my chin when I turned
too quickly. If I had had any choice in the matter, the robes would have been
burnt long ago - but when did I ever have any say in anything? Mother had
insisted that I wear these robes and so I grudgingly obeyed, though already
plotting her destruction.
When I was finally beckoned into my
father’s sanctuary by the sneering House-elf, Kreacher, my state of mind was
not in its most receptive state. I was already bored by the proceedings and
wished only to return to my room, where I could be moody in relative peace.
Alas, it was not to be, Father lectured me
for almost a half-hour in his slow, monotone voice that was so different than
Mother’s. For this I was grateful, it is very hard not to pay attention to
someone who is screeching at you from two inches away - she was worse than a
Howler - at least with one of those you don’t get spit in your face. Yes, I
much preferred Father’s speeches. He didn’t specifically pick out my faults;
rather, he talked in sweeping generalities about pride and other such things
that I evidently lacked.
Personally, I don’t think that I lack pride
and ambition - I have them - I just use them in the opposite way than what my
parents intended. My greatest ambition as a child was to be blasted off the
family tree, and I was fiercely proud of every step I took to achieve this.
Instead of listening to the drivel my
father was spouting, I examined his desk. For the first ten or so minutes, I
tried to read the letter he had just finished writing. As far as I can
remember, it was to a distant cousin, explaining exactly why a further connection
between their families was impossible. The argument seemed to be that my
father didn’t actually have any daughters. It might have been wishful thinking
on my part, but I think that he went on, in the letter, to suggest that the
cousin inquire elsewhere – his brother-in-law’s family for instance. Their
oldest daughter, Bellatrix, was shaping up well. I can remember rushing up to
my room afterwards to write a jubilant letter to Andromeda, telling her that
the bane of her life, namely Bella, might no longer be an issue by the time she
After the letter ran out of words I
understood, I turned my attention to the rest of my father's possessions. The
eagle-feather quill was examined, as was the stack of fine parchment embossed
with the Black family crest, but such luxuries hold no attraction when one is a
small boy of seven.
Father's inkstand, on the other hand,
mesmerised me; it was made of some incredibly rare, black stone, and delicately
carved into the shape of a roaring panther. The panther's mouth formed the ink
basin, its great, black fangs snarled up at me, and its ruby red eyes glowed.
I held my breath every time my father dipped his quill into the black maw; the
panther looked so alive that I almost believed the jaws would snap down on my
father’s fingers. The prospect of seeing such a bloody sight gave the
interview a little more spice than it had had before.
Considering my fascination with the objects
on his desk, it’s surprising that I remember anything about his speech at all.
However, I can remember his closing words to me, mainly because you can only
stare for so long at an inkstand (even one as fascinating as my father's)
before it loses its appeal. My father stood up, placed his hand on my
shoulder, and led me over to the window. He threw open the heavy curtains that
blocked the room from the sight of the city below. We stared out for a moment
before he turned to me and began to talk again in his intense voice
"There is nothing higher than the
stars, nothing as pure as the fire that burns in them. They look down on this
world of mud, and they scorn it as less than nothing. Why would they want to
mix with the mud, sully their perfect brilliance with muck and grime? We are
the stars, Sirius...we are above all others in this world...they are soiled as
the animals are. But we are pure; our fire is untainted. We are the stars and
we must not fall into the mud."
He was staring at me, as he finished, with
the strangest look in his eyes - it wasn’t just the fanatical flame that
kindled in most of my family’s eyes at the mere mention of blood purity. There
was something else behind it that I had never seen before, something strange
and new...pleading. My father was begging me to believe what he was saying; he
was desperate for the light to come into my eyes. For me to see the world the
way it was meant to be seen.
This threw me; I had never even known
before that he could display any other emotion apart from pride and disdain.
He was human, after all.
Possessed by the strange urge to live up to
his expectations, I choked out that I would try.
For a moment his lips twitched in what must
have been a smile, then he patted me on the shoulder and sent me away. His
mask was back in place; he was, no doubt, already contemplating something more
important than my attitude.
It was only when I was back in my room,
with my father’s words and expression already fading from my mind, that I
realised something. You can’t see the stars in London, only the deep-red glow
of the mud.