Author's Note This is perhaps the most pivotal section of them all. This is the dividing line of the story - I split it in my head as "before" and "after" this one section. It's also the longest section thus far. So I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. Thank you x a billion for all of your support.
BLOOD AND DIAMONDS
It was clear enough to even the most distant of observers that there was no Regulus without Sirius, and vice versa. They were effectively two facets of the same boy, distinguishable by a faint difference in height and in eye colour on the surface. On Friday afternoon, they played the part once again, at an impromptu tea with his mother’s side of the family.
Sirius wondered sometimes why their association with the other branch, their father’s branch, of the Black family was so rare. Not that Aunt Lucretia and her husband were particularly interesting folk, but it was something for him to consider when his entire summer was spent under his girl cousins’ eyes. He was a growing boy, and girls in varying stages of adolescence were not his ideal companions.
Today’s tea was enlivened by the surprise appearance of Uncle Alphard, who was probably the most daring and interesting man the boys could ever imagine. He was an adventurer with a penchant for rousing stories and unsatisfying gifts.
The only one who was ever impressed with Alphard’s meager offerings was Aunt Druella. Instead of daintily nibbling at her scone, she was fondling a small bag of some Chilean herb that was reputed to cleanse the complexion and the home of excess oil and bad spirits, respectively.
“You’re really too kind, Alphard,” she sighed dreamily. “All the way from South America! You shouldn’t have.”
“Of course I should have!” he laughed, hiding his personal distaste for his sister-in-law. He thought her an unbalanced woman. She might have ended up a dangerous influence on his nieces, but they were all thankfully smarter than that. He never had understood his little brother’s choice in wife. He hadn’t even seen Cygnus in years, not since Bellatrix’s graduation. He didn’t really want to, either. “No one else gives a damn about my presents. Why, you’re the only one who can appreciate them, Druella.”
Walburga, displeased, said nothing. She ate nothing, either, but was on her third cup of tea in twenty minutes. Sirius, by contrast, had barely sipped at his first.
“Not true.” Andromeda finally swallowed the last morsel of pumpkin tart and then continued, “If you were to actually get decent stuff to us…”
“Not true either, lovely,” said Bella snidely. “Have you forgotten your ninth birthday?”
The middle sister glared at the elder. “You weren’t there.”
“Avoiding the question,” snipped Cissa. “You don’t remember that funeral mask thing from the Gold Coast? I still see it in my nightmares!”
This was also not true, but no one knew it. The only visions that had come to Cissa at night involved blood and diamonds.
“You girls really are too much,” Alphard guffawed again, chomping noisily on mixed nuts he had picked up at the market a few blocks from Grimmauld Place. “Such a shame that you’ve never really had a man in the house. Just one would do the trick.”
Though her head was among the clouds, Druella’s ears were partly trained upon her drawing room. She stiffened slightly, though only Bella noticed it, and set down the charming drawstring bag down upon the armrest of her chair. Walburga settled smugly in her own seat. Though she was hardly in accordance with Druella’s parenting style, she was relieved to see that her sister-in-law did have a social conscience, however floundering and misguided.
It was always Walburga that was the star of the family, not Alphard or Cygnus. Both of them, like Druella, were in their own worlds. Walburga was perfectly happy with this one, thank you very much, and would rather remain elite here than traipse off into the wild unknown. As such, she had to keep conversation light and airy. They were supposed to be drinking tea and sampling cakes, not making social commentary.
“Girls will be girls,” she said.
Sirius cringed at the sound of her voice after the silence, as those who were willing to contemplated the meaning behind Alphard’s remark. Sirius himself, neither knowledgeable enough nor interested enough, had been watching Andromeda.
“Take Malvina Yaxley, for example.”
Cissa now took his attention, as she leaned forward at the prospect of gossip and tea sloshed over the edge of her cup.
“Her eldest son passed away, and she’s gallivanting away on holiday. That woman never did have a conscience, wouldn’t you say, Alphard?” Then she saw his expression, and she continued, “Oh, you remember Alec. You liked him.” She added a pointed glare to the statement, which everyone noticed.
“What? Oh. Right. Yes, of course I remember him.” He seemed very aware of the nature of his reaction, but did not apologise for it. He would never have to. “But I haven’t heard about this.” He paused, as they all did, to remember Alec Yaxley. For Sirius, the remembrance included the day of his one conversation with Lucius Malfoy. Yaxley had been there too. He had admired the young boy’s audacity. “How did… how did it happen?”
Regulus, eager to prove his sophistication, answered, “It was an accident, Uncle. He was hiking and fell into some gorge or something. Right, Mama?” He glanced up at his mother, who offered him a terse but pleased smile.
“What a shame,” he frowned. “A promising lad, I recall.”
“Very promising,” Druella repeated, with a nervous titter that did not set anyone at ease.
Walburga agreed. Very, very promising was Alec Yaxley. Of all the deaths in their community, this was the closest to the family.
“It would have been wonderful if… if he’d…”
But then, Druella remembered her place. With a gasp, she took up her tea with more vigour, and snatched at the little victuals that accompanied it.
Regulus, for all he believed, was not ready for the game. How could he be? He was but nine. While the question was exploding on the rest of the children’s lips, he was the only one who opened his mouth and allowed it to go its way.
“If he’d what, Auntie?”
He never used that term if he could help it. Druella frightened him. But despite his ignorance, he knew that this was not something to grasp weakly at. It would have to be dragged forcibly from his aunt. “What were you saying, Auntie, about Alec?”
Druella, in turn, didn’t like Regulus. It was not a personal thing, but a thing of principle. Children never understood the world, let alone her own. They were not her children, and so had no place there. “I was saying something? Dear me, you must have heard wrong, Regulus. I was just saying that he…” She added a sniffle here, for good measure and to allow some other emotion its escape. Walburga did not approve of emotion, but Walburga was made of stone if she thought… if she… considering, after all, what had transpired… “He deserved to live.”
Alphard nodded in accordance.
None of the children bought the cover-up, but they could not reject it outright. Walburga knew this and was satisfied.
But then she turned to her son, the older one, who looked so much like her husband that it frightened her sometimes. He never liked her. He didn’t like anyone except for Regulus and Andromeda. The boy whose life he presided over, and the girl who lorded it over him.
“No what, Sirius?” Cissa asked. Walburga thought her an ideal daughter with Rosier colouring.
“He didn’t deserve to live,” the boy answered peaceably. He turned to his favourite cousin, whose face had turned ashen and whose teacup was quaking. “I told you, didn’t I? He was murdered.”
She had let go of her saucer for her little sister’s hand. Why that one, Walburga could not say, as she was so much weaker than the eldest sister. No matter. She always knew the middle girl was odd. Though Andromeda would never admit it herself, she took after her mother in more ways than she knew. “Stop it, Sirius. For my sake.”
But he wouldn’t stop. Andromeda had asked him for many favours over the years, and he rarely disobeyed her. He wouldn’t stop if she fell to her knees and begged. “Mother, you know it’s true, you know it. All of you know and if you don’t, you should. Uncle deserves to know the truth.” Taking advantage of his elders’ speechlessness and his mother’s still-building rage, he plowed on fearlessly, with storm fire in his eyes. In his passion, he stood. The tea table shook at his energy. “Uncle, Alec didn’t deserve to live, not anymore. You know what he did, Uncle? He joined Them.”
At Alphard’s silence, he laughed, a twisted sound that might have come from the adventurer himself. Alphard shuddered to hear it, caught off-guard by that reckless dissimilarity.
“The Dark Lord, Uncle? Haven’t heard of him yet in the mountains, have you?” The boy snorted. This reminded his brother to breathe. No one else had yet. “He joined the Dark Lord because he thought it’d be a laugh, baiting Muggles and all that. They killed him because they could, because he made a mistake. That gorge thing, no one believed it. It was a lie old Yaxley spread to keep that goddamn saviour of society in the clear, even though he killed his son. Even Regulus didn’t believe it! It’s a lie!”
“Be quiet, Sirius,” hissed his mother at last, jerking him down to the floor at her feet. He fell as if collapsing in on himself, but wouldn’t look at her. “Stop poisoning your brother’s mind with your father’s–”
“Father is right sometimes.” He turned his young contorted face to her, a regal avenging angel brought to his knees by a force of evil. Her heart twisted in the grasp of his gaze. She always knew he was quietly passionate… but this… Orion was never like this. She couldn’t remember the last Black who became this. It never occurred to her that he was not heeding the call of his blood, but something greater, and louder. “I can’t–I can’t let you do this to him. Pity him and praise him like he’s some sort of martyr for our generation or something.” Still looking at her, he addressed his uncle. “You agree, don’t you? Don’t you, Uncle Alphard?”
Alphard could not be compelled to answer. So his sister-in-law took the responsibility for him. Her eyes, the same blue of her youngest daughter’s, were like that of a fledgling deer at the mercy of a hunter’s knife. She looked about to die, or lapse into hysteria, or something similar. Her passions were slow, smouldering, not like this. She was not one to boil over. She was a Rosier. She didn’t understand.
“And this,” she whispered in anguish, “was the man you wanted, Walburga?”
The women’s eyes met in a clash of what ought to have been swords. Instead they were housecat claws.
Druella was near to illness. Her daughters watched her curiously, fearfully. For whom they feared, Walburga didn’t know.
“This was… this misguided young man was… you wanted him…”
The boys demanded in unison, “Wanted for what?”
No one answered for a very long time. Bellatrix’s face was stone; Andromeda’s death; Narcissa’s a portrait. Regulus, with nothing else to occupy his anxiety, munched on three cucumber sandwiches at once. His brother did not work to extricate himself from his mother’s grasp.
Druella finally spoke. “How dare you.” Her voice was like shredded rose petals, dirty spring water. Ugly and wrong. “You dare to scheme behind my back and you choose this… this… and you, Alphard, you…”
“I had no idea!” he cried. “May I remind you how long my absences stretch! This is the first I’m hearing about any of this!”
Bellatrix was thinking the same thing.
“He was noble, he was the right age. Nothing came of it, Druella, and I don’t know why you dare bring this up at such a time.” Her grip on Sirius’ shoulder increased as she used him to heave herself up. “He would have been an excellent match, were you not blinded by self-interest and delusions. It is not my fault that he died at all, no matter the cause. It is not our place. Good day, Druella dearest, and offer the gods your thanks for saving your oblivious daughter from widowhood and status.”
And then, dragging both of her sons away, she marched to the fireplace in the kitchen. The sound of their disappearance echoed in the drawing room long after.
Andromeda’s ears were ringing, and her vision clouded, and then all was overcast, and she knew no more.