Chapter 1 : Prologue or A is for Alone
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Whilst any day in Ravensden Hall could probably be described as ‘trying’ or ‘difficult’ by deeply cynical adults or those who have never been given the task of raising three young girls, it is safe to say that today, in fact, really was proving to be a trying one.
It wasn’t that it was a particularly horrible day or even a slightly strange one, it just so happened that on this day, there was nothing to do.
Most of the time when children whine about having nothing to do, there are things they could do - games they could play, books they could read, toys to play with - but, for these little girls, there really wasn’t much to do at all. You see, their parents - Cygnus and Druella Black - had gone out to visit Cygnus’ sister, Walburga, who was currently pregnant with her first child, and her husband. This absence meant that the three girls were all on their own in the mansion. For most people, being left alone in a mansion with your two sisters would hardly be a problem, but for them it was most certainly a travesty of the gravest kind.
“I’m bored,” the oldest announced from her position laying sprawled on an emerald-green chaise longue in one of the house’s two drawing rooms. When neither of the other two answered, her mouth fell into a pout, bottom lip trembling ever-so-slightly, and she threw one of the cushions at her younger sister. “Andy, I’m bored.”
“I know, Bella,” Andromeda replied, sounding older than her meagre six years as she tried her hardest to emulate their mother’s exasperated tone. “I heard you.”
A second cushion flew after the first one, golden tassel trailing through the air, smacking Andy’s hands, sending the book she was holding to the floor, the sound of the pages crackling as they bent under the weight of the cushion audible to all three.
“Bella! You bent the pages!” Andy gasped, moving the cushion off the book and attempting to smooth out the creases in the pages. Shooting a glare at her older sister, she picked up the cushion and threw it back at her, hitting her arm.
“Sorry,” Bella said, although she didn’t really sound that sorry. She never did.
“You should be,” she muttered, closing the book delicately and leaving it on the floor. She didn’t really feel like reading any more - not when Bella would, no doubt, continue to throw cushions at her in an attempt to find some form of entertainment.
Speaking of cushions, Andromeda glanced at the one still laying beside her and then at her still sister on the chaise longue. Being careful not to make a single noise - she pretended she couldn’t hear the rustling of her dress as she moved - she lifted the cushion up and threw it, with all her childish strength, straight at her sister. A muffled moan told her she’d hit her mark, causing a stream of giggles to erupt from her right.
Bella sat up, taking the cushion out of her lap, where it had fallen, and, very gently, threw it at Narcissa, who had - to the best of Andromeda’s knowledge - been sitting silently, embroidering a handkerchief. Cissy, though, now leapt up and ran away, the cushion hitting the floor where she’d been sitting with a dull thud.
With a smile, Andy watched as Bella, a competitive gleam entering her eye, jumped off the divan, beginning to chase after Cissy.
It wasn’t really fair, she reflected, watching them. Bella was, after all, eight years old - even if her birthday had only been recently - compared to Cissy’s five. There was no way Cissy would be able to avoid Bella for long without assistance.
That thought at the front of her mind, Andromeda quickly got to her feet, all irritation towards her sister over the bent book banished from her mind, and, as Bella ran past her, she didn’t think twice about pushing her over.
Perhaps it wasn’t the most thought out strategy she could have come up with as Bella, having landed heavily on the carpeted floor, smirked up at her, pulling herself up.
“I’m going to get you, Andy!” she told her, and Andy, not bothering to try to keep the smile off her face, took off, sprinting across the room, throwing the door open. She could hear Bellatrix chasing her, the incessant giggles of Narcissa further behind.
A glance over her shoulder told her that Bella was gaining on her, so, with a laugh, she sped up, careering down the hallway, sending Pinky - their father’s personal house-elf - diving out of the way. On a pedestal in the corner at the end of the corridor, their mother’s prized Ming vase wobbled slightly. Her surroundings zipped by, colours flashing past: the dove grey of the curtains, the blue of the outside sky, the green of the grass, the deep red of the carpet.
In front of her, the polished oak of the stairs, the navy carpet held down by gold bars on each step, loomed up towards her. The sight of them was enough to knock the wind out of her lungs, as her mind imagined herself falling down them, the thunk of her body as she hit each step, the force of each blow as it came, turning and turning as she rolled down, her eyes pressed firmly shut.
“Bella, no!” she heard Narcissa scream shrilly and, turning, she could see a black blur aiming straight at her. Horrified, she closed her eyes, preparing herself for the blow just as Bella crashed into her.
It never came.
She heard a giggle - soft and delicate, as though the person laughing wasn’t sure if they were supposed to be laughing or not. Slowly, hesitantly, she opened her eyes. Narcissa, still standing on the edge of the landing, was staring at her, her eyes wide, amazement shining in them. Her feet, she thought briefly, felt oddly… free.
She couldn’t feel the floor.
Instantly, she glanced down. And screamed.
The floor was below them, the steps leading away down to the ground floor of the house. Even as she kicked her feet, desperately trying to prove to herself that what she was seeing was wrong, that she was standing on the stairs, she heard another giggle. This one, however, was closer and infinitely more amused.
“Bella?” she asked, glancing up at her older sister. “Are you doing this?”
Bella glanced at her, a bright smile lighting up her face. “I didn’t mean to,” she explained, sounding far less hesitant than you would imagine. “But I didn’t want you to fall.”
“Can you let me down?” Andy asked, glancing nervously at the stairs beneath them.
“I don’t know how,” Bella admitted, her face creasing in worry. “Perhaps if -” but the rest of what she intended to say was drowned out as the two girls fell onto the stairs with a pair of twin thuds.
“Ow!” Andy cried, rolling over to sit on the stairs, rubbing her sore knees. “You hurt me!”
“You’d be a lot more hurt if you’d fallen down the stairs,” Bella retorted, flouncing off back up to join Cissy on the landing, the skirt of her dress swishing around her calves.
“I wouldn’t be hurt at all if you hadn’t run into me,” Andy retorted, standing up and folding her arms across her chest. A slight frown crossed her face when she realised that she was far lower than Bellatrix, as she was still standing on the stairs. Of course, she forgot that it wouldn’t make that much of a difference even if she wasn’t as Bella, being eight, was taller than her by five inches.
“I wouldn’t have run into you if you weren’t in the way,” Bella informed her tartly, looking down on her sister with a childish glare.
“Stop it,” Cissy ordered them, stamping her foot. Andy exchanged a look with her sister, sighed and the two of them converged on Narcissa.
“We’re sorry, Cissy,” Andy apologised.
“Yeah, we’re really sorry,” Bella added.
Cissy smiled up at them, her blue eyes losing their formerly watery quality. “Good,” she replied, taking their hands. “Now, come and play with me.”
She was completely unaware, as she dragged her two older sisters - with surprising strength for a small five year old - away to her room, that they were exchanging looks over her shoulders. If she had known, she would no doubt have simply shrugged and said that at least they were no longer arguing.
Cygnus and Druella returned home at six o’clock that evening, dreading to see the state their adorable little terrors would have left the house in. They were, however, pleased to find everything in perfect order - Druella’s Ming vase was three centimetres further to the right than it had been before she left, but she didn’t notice. Quietly, they made their way upstairs, intending to go and find their children.
Peeks into Bellatrix and Andromeda’s rooms revealed nothing, which was making Druella, who had never wanted to leave her children alone at home in the first place, fret, her voice seeming to Cygnus to rise up an octave each time she voiced her thoughts.
“Oh, Cygnus, what if they’re outside? They’ll be so lost and scared. Don’t you think we should send a house-elf to go and find them? We should never have left them home, you know that - you should just have explained to Walburga that they’re too young. At the very least -”
Cygnus pressed a finger to his lips and she fell silent. Gently, he pushed open the door to Narcissa’s room.
Her floor was an absolute mess, drenched in scraps of paper, quills and ink bottles with their lids half-heartedly screwed back on. Someone had knocked over the stack of books on the little pink desk and then left them there, pages rustling slightly in the wind sweeping in from the open balcony doors. In the middle of it all, the three sisters lay on Narcissa’s bed, fully clothed, sleeping peacefully. As their parents watched, Bella curled up tighter, adjusting her head on Cissy’s pillow, the youngest sucking her thumb contentedly.
“Mother? Father?” Andromeda sat up, her dress creased from sleeping in it, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. “We wondered when you’d get back. What time is it?”
“Half past eight, sweetheart,” Druella told her, sweeping over to her, carefully avoiding the mess on the floor. “Did you and your sisters have a good time?”
“Oh,” Andromeda appeared disappointed. “I thought you’d be back earlier than that - I still did better than Bella, though, she said you were never coming back, although I think she was just trying to scare Cissy.” Untangling herself from the mess of Black children on the bed, she clambered down somewhat awkwardly and picked her way to her mother, who pulled her into a hug.
“Was everything alright?” Druella asked, fussing over her, looking over each of her children to check that none of them had been injured or hurt while they’d been away. “Why are you all in here - was Cissy upset?”
“Druella,” Cygnus said softly, laying a hand on her shoulder. “Let her breathe. They’re all fine.”
“Everything was,” Andromeda yawned. “Alright. We played, mostly - well, I tried to read but Bella was bored and wouldn’t stop throwing cushions at me. Oh, daddy, mummy, guess what?” her excitement was so strong she was practically bouncing up and down on the spot, beaming from ear to ear. She didn’t even wait for a response, but burst out, “Bella did magic! She did magic!”
Both her parents looked thrilled, casting proud glances at their eldest daughter.
“That’s wonderful!” Druella exclaimed, before noticing another yawn, even though Andy tried to hide it behind a hand. “You can tell us all about it in the morning - you need to go to bed, young lady.” she began to shepherd Andromeda out of the room, gently pushing her - not that Andy needed much encouragement, she felt exhausted. Shooting a glance over her shoulder, Druella mouthed to her husband, “Can you move Bella?” With a nod, he bent down and carefully picked the young girl up, holding her easily.
Within ten minutes, two out of the three children were fast asleep in their own beds; Andromeda lay awake for a little while, a smile etched on her face. Bella had done magic. She had proved, beyond all doubt, that she was a witch. Under the covers, she wiggled her toes excitedly. With a bit of luck, she’d be next!
Giving a light sigh, Andromeda puts the picture back down on the mantelpiece, watching as the photo-her snuggles closer to the photo-Bella. They look so sweet, so innocent and young like that: the three of them, all together, lying on Narcissa’s candyfloss-pink bed. For a moment, just a moment, she stares at the picture of her sisters before turning away. There are things to be done, after all - she has a baby to look after. This is no time for reminiscing.
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