These three related vignettes were inspired by the Black Family Tree drawn by JKR.
Many thanks to Ara Kane for beta-reading.
Part One - Hyde Park, London, 1879
Afterwards, Robert Hitchens was always ashamed that on their first meeting he had mistaken Miss Isla Black for a drunken prostitute. Hatless and with her long hair unbound, she had been spinning around on the gravel path as though disoriented. In fact, in a momentary flight of fancy that was quickly stifled, he thought that these attributes, along with her shapeless black gown, gave her the appearance of a witch from the fairy tales his mother had often told.
He grew quite alarmed when she approached him. From the little he knew about women’s fashions, her dress’s lack of the usual bustled silhouette led him to conclude that she had wandered over from the slums. To his great surprise, she addressed him in a cultured, perhaps even aristocratic, accent. “Please sir, how does one get to Charing Cross Road from here? I’ve managed to ap- wind up in the completely wrong place.”
Quickly revising his original assessment of her station in life, he sent her on her way with a tip of his hat. She set off in the opposite direction, and when he turned to look after her, she had disappeared.
Bob had never expected to see her again, but for the next several months, he found himself running into Miss Black all over London. At first, he only shared a few words with her out of politeness, but he soon grew to enjoy conversing with her; she didn’t simper and try to flirt like the daughters of his mother’s friends. Clearly an avid reader of newspapers, she was the first woman he had ever met to show an interest in the finer points of law and politics.
However, he always came away from their meetings with the impression that she had learned more about him than he had about her. Even though he guessed her age to be nearer thirty than twenty, she always continued to wear her hair loose like a young girl and dress in a most eccentric manner. Whenever the conversation drifted towards her education or background, she deftly changed the subject, and offers to escort her home were always firmly rebuffed. Intrigued by the mystery, he spent some time trying to find any information about wealthy families called “Black,” but came up empty.
One balmy summer morning, they met again in Hyde Park. They had just begun to stroll arm in arm when a strange noise caused Miss Black to whirl around. Behind them stood another young woman wearing strange, but expensively made, garments like his friend. Miss Black dropped his arm and strode quickly over to the newcomer.
“What do you think you’re doing? The Muggles could have seen you Apparating!” Bob was unable to hear the rest of the whispered conversation but could tell that both participants were growing angry. He even thought they were pointing sticks at each other but couldn’t be sure. In the end, the unknown woman stalked off after saying loudly, “I’m going to tell Mother!”
Miss Black stormed back towards him and threw herself down on the nearest bench. As he sat down beside her, he noticed that she was indeed holding an elaborately carved stick in one hand. Puzzled, he turned to look for the stranger again, but didn’t see her. Returning his attention to his companion, he found her using the “stick” as half of a mismatched pair of knitting needles. She stabbed at the innocent loops of green yarn with a ferocity that almost scared him.
After venting her feelings on a couple of rows of her striped scarf, she set down her work and turned to him. “I must apologize for not introducing you to my dear elder sister Elladora, but,” she added dryly, “as you could see, she was not in the proper frame of mind for company.” She crammed her knitting project into an impossibly small handbag and stood up. “I’m afraid I must go home and try to mitigate the damage of the gossip she’ll spread about me. Goodbye.”
Bob couldn’t stop himself from asking as she started to walk away, “What sort of gossip?”
“That I’m talking to the wrong sort of man,” she answered with a smile.
When she failed to turn up at all for the next month, Bob pondered Miss Black’s troubling remark. As a solicitor with the respected firm of Jaggers & Tulkinghorn, he had never believed that anyone could ever consider him the “wrong sort.” True, he could not be called “wealthy”, but unlike most other young men of his acquaintance, he had never been in debt and rarely indulged in gambling (or any other unmentionable vices). He was also secure in the knowledge that he had never done anything with Miss Black that could be considered remotely improper. They were only friends, after all. Why, then, would her family be displeased?
Yes, only friends. He sighed and turned his attention back to the contract he was supposed to be preparing for a client. Interrupted by a noise, he dropped his pen and spattered ink all over his papers as he looked up to see Miss Black standing before his desk. She looked very unlike herself with her hair coiled into an elaborate pile on her head and wearing a tightly fitted silk dress with a neckline rather too low for two o’clock in the afternoon.
“What are you doing here?” was the only greeting he managed to stammer out.
“I’m running away to get married, of course.” Because he merely sat there with his mouth agape, she continued. “I need you to draw up some financial contracts. I’ve spent the last three weeks making sure that my family can’t get their hands on my inheritance, and I don’t want my husband to undo my work.”
When his brain started working again, Bob was overwhelmed by unexpected feelings of jealousy. He forcibly pulled himself together and, taking out a fresh sheet of paper, tried to cover his discomfiture with a professional manner. “I presume you wish your assets to be held in trust for any children? That’s quite standard in these cases.” Unsure if he truly wanted to know the answer, he paused for a moment before asking, “Might I inquire as to the identity of the gentleman fortunate enough to gain your affections?”
She looked him straight in the eye. “You.”
He gulped. Never in a million years had he expected to be on the receiving end of a marriage proposal, much less an unorthodox one such as this. Miss Black - Isla - held out her hand, and he took it. It seemed very odd to seal such a bargain with a handshake, but he how else could he respond? He certainly didn’t think she would appreciate meaningless streams of romantic words.
Their future partnership arranged, Isla sat down in the chair reserved for clients and took out her knitting while Bob numbly wrote up the marriage articles. After their signatures had been witnessed by the dumbfounded clerks from the outer office (who had somehow not seen her come in), he tried his luck and was relieved when Isla allowed him to kiss her. She stopped him, however, when he attempted to put his arm around her waist.
She smiled at him before pointing a knitting needle, the carved one, at his desk where the papers began sorting themselves into orderly stacks. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
Part Two coming soon - Phineas, 1901