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Chapter 2 : A New Beginning
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Walburga Black is proud to confess that never in her entire life has she witnessed such activity at her home of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. In her bedroom, which is illuminated by an assortment of candles to banish the shadows that are normally present in the usually-dark room, she stands in her elegant bridal gown, the swish of the material audible as she admires herself from all angles.
It is a beautiful dress of pure white embellished with real diamonds upon the bodice and was eyewateringly expensive to procure. However, it is undeniably worthy of the eldest of Pollux Black's children and that is more important to any of the Blacks than the amount of Galleons it costs. As Walburga turns around again, searching meticulously for any imperfections in her reflection within the ornate and old-fashioned mirror, she notices her flame-haired bridesmaid standing in the background, surveying her with an expression of what she believes is admiration of her beauty.
“So what do you think, Fee?” she queries, her eyes fixed upon her own reflection.
“I think you look absolutely stunning, Wali,” her best friend admits, her own emerald green dress bringing out the dark chocolate colour of her eyes. “In fact, I'd go as far to say that I may very well be jealous of how beautiful you look today.”
“I'd understand that completely,” Walburga smirks as she turns to her friend, “and you do look quite nice today, unlike those little ragamuffins who seem to have taken leave of their senses.” Her words are quite clearly aimed at the two young flower girls standing in the corner, and Fee turns to glance at them. Druella Rosier has evidently ventured too close to the window, causing a gust of wind to undo her once pristine hairdo, while Dolores Selwynn has been impolite enough to grow five inches since their last dress fitting, rendering her dress much too short. “Orion is a respectable gentleman, and as my second cousin he is undeniably from a family of impeccable heritage and flawless blood,” she continues. “I am honoured to wed him today.”
“Not to mention that you have the added perk of not being required to change your surname,” Fee snickers gently. “In all honesty, though, I must admit that it is not your dress or your groom that I am jealous of, but the fact that in a few hours, Orion will be pledging himself to you and vice versa.” She pauses to walk over to little Druella and begins to re-do the teenager’s hairstyle while ignoring her protests of the fact it has been re-done five times already. “He will promise to care for you, to treat you like a queen, to stand by you, to give you children, and you will promise all of those in return. He will vow to stand by you until the end of your days just like you will do for him, and I can't help but feel that such moments hold indisputable value. In fact, they're a sizeable part of the reason I adore weddings.”
“How contemplative you are today, Fiona,” Irma comments frostily as she walked into Walburga's bedroom, and both women look up to survey Walburga’s mother with surprise; they had expected her to still be preparing for the ceremony. “Do locate Alphard; he was instructed to wake Orion and help him prepare for the ceremony. Ensure that he has done so.”
“Certainly,” Fee answers. “May I ask which room Orion slept in last night?”
“The one that holds the portrait of Pollux's grandfather, a former outstanding Headmaster of Hogwarts, Phineas Nigellus Black - I do believe you are familiar with its location?” Irma replies.
“Yes, I am,” Fee smiles cordially, nodding in acknowledgement at the older woman before turning back to her friend. “I'll see you downstairs at the carriage, Wali.”
As the flame-haired witch walks out of the room, she can hear the beginning of Irma's complaining. No matter how close Fee is to Walburga, Irma still despises how she uses a shortened, over-familiar nickname “disproportionate to her position within the hierarchy of pure-bloods”, for the simple fact that her heritage is unconfirmed. Having heard the complaints before, she ignores the older woman's objections and quickly proceeds down the stairs and across the hall towards the room in question, pausing when she reached the door to knock gently upon the mahogany wood.
“Come in!” Orion's voice rings out from within the room, and Fee opens it gently to reveal two grumbling wizards - recognizing one as Orion himself and the other as her best friend Alphard, who she has been close to ever since their first night at Hogwarts. “Ah, Miss Phoenix. Young Alphard here is unable to secure a tie properly; would you mind assisting?”
“I'm perfectly able to put a tie on myself, Orion, but it's not as easy when you're trying to put it on someone else,” Alphard grumbles, standing aside to allow Fee the necessary room to complete the task.
“Miss Phoenix seems to be managing quite successfully,” Orion reprimands, frowning at his younger relative.
“Only because she's got plenty of practice in, considering the amount of ties she's removed amorously in her life,” Alphard mutters darkly, earning himself an glare of indignation from Fee.
While it is not uncommon for Alphard to concoct irritating untruths in jest, attempting to annoy her so that she will abandon her manners and behave disgracefully like himself, Fee cannot fathom how the younger boy finds such a situation appropriate. His actions may be a result of his belief that Walburga’s excellent mannerisms are dull, and his knowledge that complaining whenever Fee mimics his sister in order to appear more ladylike does not have an effect while his jibes do, but to behave in such a fashion at a wedding is clearly asking for trouble. Fortunately for them both - for Irma will most certainly curse Alphard if she learns of what he has just said - Orion appears to be preoccupied with his pre-wedding nerves and shows no sign of having heard Alphard's insult.
“Master Orion,” a house-elf speaks as he Apparates into the room without warning, causing its inhabitants to jump in fright, “you are expected at the carriage now. Mistress Irma urges you to make haste; she wishes for you to depart before Mistress Walburga descends.”
“Is that house-elf new?” Fee asks Alphard, placing her hand on her chest in an attempt to steady her heart. When he nods, she turns to the creature and narrows her eyes darkly, giving him a glare usually reserved for misbehaving students at Hogwarts to whom she gave detention. “Do not ever turn up without warning like that again, at least when I am present. You may Apparate first, then speak, but never do both at the same time or you will surely frighten somebody to death.”
“Kreacher apologizes to Mistress Walburga and Master Alphard's friend for alarming her,” the house-elf replies, taking a long bow.
“Thank you for correcting my tie, Miss Phoenix,” Orion nods, changing the subject with ease. “Alphard, we had better leave now; I have no wish to antagonize my future mother-in-law before the wedding has even taken place.”
Fee can only watch as her best friend is half-dragged out of the room by Orion, who sports a expression of concern. This is one of those moments where she wishes she knows someone willing to participate in placing bets on the Black family; if she did, she would willingly stake fifty Galleons on the theory that Orion Black, who supposedly can do no wrong, has participated in an unspeakable crime - socializing with Muggle filth, for example - and has volunteered to marry Walburga in lieu of being disowned. However, in the absence of such an ally, she is forced to debate internally on preciously what this supposed heinous transgression is.
“Fiona,” Irma calls out from the room upstairs. “Walburga is on her way downstairs; please accompany her to the carriage and for Merlin's sake, don't forget the flowers! I'd never live it down if my daughter and her bridesmaid were both without their bouquets.”
“I certainly won't forget the flowers, Mrs Black,” Fee answers as she rushes across the hallway to the green guest room she is occupying and scoops up both bouquets in her hands before returning to the staircase just in time to meet Walburga. After both women have composed themselves and Walburga has her bouquet, they link arms and descend the final flight of steps together. It does not take long for them to be escorted through the hallway and into the bridal carriage.
“I've been thinking over what you said earlier,” Walburga reveals once the two young witches are seated. “About how significant my vows are today. I have to ask: why would you be jealous of that? You are the most independent person I know; I would never consider that you might require a man to protect you.”
“I don't want a man to protect me,” Fee admits, staring out of the window to avoid meeting her friend’s eyes. “I want a man who is unafraid to let me explore the world and see everything; I want a man who will support me in forging a career of my own; I want a man who will encourage me to take risks and catch me if I fall. I want a man who I can love without restraint, and who does not hold back from admitting his own love.”
“That's a very modern view,” Walburga remarks, although Fee catches her reflection raising her eyebrows. “You and my brother would make a suitable match, I suspect.”
Fee cannot restrain a laugh, but does her best to turn into a faux cough. The result is a strangled sort of sound that causes Walburga’s expression to turn into one of concern, but the redhead speaks as if nothing has occured. “It's true that Alphard and I have similar personalities, but my feelings for him are purely platonic. And even if I did view him in a romantic way, I am certain that your mother would object vehemently and therefore there would be no possibility of my becoming a Black.”
“It's all very well to marry for love, Fee,” the bride answers, “but there is no certainty that love exists. Are you truly prepared to wait for the gentleman who holds your affections to return your unrequited feelings, possibly for the rest of your life?”
Fee turns away from the carriage window and its view of the unseasonable summer downpour to look at Walburga, and instinctively her hand reaches up to trace the beautiful locket around her neck; a gift from the fourth member of their quartet - the highly distinguished, faultless Slytherin Tom Marvolo Riddle. She knows that Walburga will never understand the bond that she and Tom shares; in fact, Fee suspects that her friend's view of their relationship is in fact inaccurate, but so far there is no proof of what Walburga's notions are.
“Yes,” she whispers. “Yes, I am.”
Alphard cannot resist a glance at his best friend while his sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law make their vows. He knows how significant weddings are to Fee, having to her discuss them at length, and how much the emotional ceremony affects her; even now, he suspects that her watery eyes are from fighting back tears and not caused by a trick of the light like most people would assume.
“I, Walburga Elladora, take you, Orion Arcturus, to be my beloved husband, to have and to hold you, to honour you, to treasure you, to be at your side in sorrow and joy, in the good times, and in the bad, and to love and cherish you always. I promise you this from my heart, for all the days of my life.”
Walburga speaks with pure decorum in her voice. From a lifetime lived together, Alphard can tell that her heart is not in her words, despite what Fee imagines. He winces when his mother sobs loudly, overcome by her own emotions. Once again, he glances at Fee, who continues to maintain her unemotional façade as best as she can. It seems strange to Alphard that the only one of his friends who Irma criticizes - unfairly, in his opinion - is the same young witch he considers to be worth ten times more than his mother. After all, though Fee’s family history is unknown and her childhood has been tainted by Muggles, she remains one of the most composed young women in this church at present.
“I, Orion Arcturus, take you, Walburga Elladora, to be my beloved wife, to have and to hold you, to honour you, to treasure you, to be at your side in sorrow and joy, in the good times, and in the bad, and to love and cherish you always. I promise you this from my heart, for all the days of my life.”
Orion's words are slightly more believable; Alphard senses from his tone that at least he actually wants to be married which is more than he could say about Walburga. Though he knows that it is immoral, he had eavesdropped on his sister and best friend the previous night under Orion's orders, as the groom had been eager to hear his bride’s opinions of him. Now, he regrets it, for he is currently trapped between a rock and a hard place. If he stands up now, and confesses to Walburga’s growing dependence on alcohol - discovered after hearing her argument with Fee last night - then the consequences will be unfathomable. However, though he dislikes Orion greatly for being a perfect Black in his mother’s eyes, resulting in constant comparisons between them both where he always ends up the lesser, he knows that it would be unfair to let the man be trapped in a marriage to an alcoholic.
“I now declare you man and wife,” the reverend declares. “You may kiss the bride.”
Orion's lips meet Walburga's, and Alphard breathes a sigh of relief. He is grateful; not because his brother-in-law has just signed his soul away, but because the temptation to intervene no longer exists now that it is too late to prevent the marriage. He takes yet another look at Fee, and sees her standing in the front pew, laughing and clapping with the rest of Walburga's girlfriends from school, who have been invited for the occasion. It is then that he notices Tom Riddle’s presence, and realizes that his friend is standing next to Fee, whispering something in her ear that causes her to giggle. Alphard clenches his fists in anger; though he conceals his true feelings from Fee, the same cannot be said for Tom, who he has sought advice from, and it infuriates him that his friend does not appear to care about his emotions.
He, Alphard Black, direct descendant of Hogwarts' most glorious Headmaster and a descendant of the aristocratic bloodline of the Blacks - so noble that his family are practically royalty in the wizarding world - is jealous.
Voices fill the ballroom of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place as several witches discuss Walburga's bridal gown in intricate detail, debating the merits and relatively few failures of the dress. Fee sits at a table in the far corner of the room, the furthest distance possible from those she secretly calls “gossiping harlots”, completely uninterested in how pretty the dress is. As far as she is concerned, as long as Walburga loves her dress and looks beautiful in it - which she does - then it is none of anybody's business how much it cost or who designed it. Opposite her, her best friend Alphard slouches in his chair while putting his feet up comfortably on the table in between them, causing Fee to tut. She does not usually mind; in fact, she often puts her feet up too, when not wearing gowns or skirts, but the event is too important to consider such an action let alone do it. Sighing, Alphard puts his feet down and sits up, leaning over the table so that he can whisper quietly, a devilish twinkle in his eye.
“Do you think we should tell Kreacher that Wali's named after Aunt Elladora, who started the family tradition of beheading house-elves when they get too old to work? And that Wali fully intends to live up to her name?”
“As much as I'd like to cause mischief,” Fee admits, “especially since that elf deserves it after what happened this morning, don't you think a hysterical house-elf would ruin the day? I know this entire débâcle of a reception is more boring than double History with Binns, but I don't want our amusement to be at Wali's expense. And, I think she was talking more about the noble bloodline of Black when she said she wanted to live up to her name than your Aunt Elladora.”
“I know that!” Alphard answers scornfully. “But Kreacher doesn't. And look at Wali. Does it look as if anything could possibly ruin her day?”
Fee follows the wizard’s gaze, and her eyes rest upon Walburga and Orion dancing. She has to admit that her best friend is right: normally a perfectionist, Walburga has surprisingly ignored the mismatched tablecloths - one of the house-elves had accidentally shrunk some of them, and while spells had been used to restore it to its original size, imperfections could still be seen if you looked carefully. She has also failed to complain about Alphard's casual behaviour, when normally she would swoop upon the seventeen-year-old within seconds of putting his feet on the table at a formal event, and hasn't yet bothered to seize Fee and attempt for the hundredth time to persuade the redhead to date Abraxas Malfoy. Instead, Walburga is enclosed in her own world with Orion, and once more Fee can feel the familiar sensation of jealousy simmering within her.
“Fee, I need your help,” a young woman with sleek, long blonde hair says as she slide into the third seat at the table, which was previously vacant. “I've been assigned to write an article about Walburga's wedding, and I was hoping I could get an interview with the bridesmaid.”
“Why don't you include an interview with the best man, Ophelia?” Alphard interrupts with a smirk. “I'd even strip for Witch Weekly's Wizard of the Month poster if you want.”
Ophelia glares at Alphard murderously. “Just because you think that being a journalist is insignificant does not give you the right to make a mockery of my article. Witch Weekly is read by witches who'd love to be bridesmaids, hence the interviews with Fee and Naomi.”
“Naomi?” Fee and Alphard ask in perfect unison, both of their confused expressions clear to see.
“Cedrella's blood traitor of a bridesmaid,” Ophelia answers scornfully. “She got married this morning, so my editor is demanding that I cover both weddings and have one article covering several pages about “the two Black weddings”- like Cedrella's even going to be considered a Black any more! I did try to point that out, but my editor just said -”
She stops speaking abruptly, staring behind the two friends, and when they turn around to see the reason, it is to see Walburga standing behind Fee’s chair with Orion next to her, a furious expression upon her features.
“What do you mean, the two Black weddings?” Walburga queries. When Ophelia hesitates to answer, the bride’s voice turns into a frightening tone not unlike a snarl. “Ophelia Selwynn, you will tell me what you mean by two Black weddings!”
“You didn’t know?” Ophelia asks, clearly worried. “Cedrella, your cousin, she got married today.”
Walburga’s anger is clear for the trio to see, and her tone remains harsh as she complains aloud to nobody in particular. “How dare she? How dare Cedrella get married on the same day as me? She was invited to this wedding, so she can't pretend she didn't know when it was. That bitch!”
“What did you mean with your comment about Cedrella's blood traitor of a bridesmaid, Ophelia?” Orion asks suddenly, glaring so viciously that the blonde cannot help but bitterly regret she hadn’t simply remained quiet.
“Naomi McAllister,” she whispers as she looks down at the ballroom floor, barely audible.
“That little Gryffindor cow? Why would Cedrella have her there? I know we rarely see her these days, but I'm sure she wouldn't be that desperate!” Alphard sneers.
All four turn to Ophelia, silently demanding answers from the Selwynns’ middle daughter; as she has attended Cedrella's wedding, it is clear that she is currently their best source of information. After a long pause, during which the uncomfortable silence grows, Ophelia realizes that she has no other option but to admit the truth.
“I don't think she had McAllister as her bridesmaid out of desperation.”
“Why?” Walburga demands instantly, almost before Ophelia has finished her sentence.
“Because it was Septimus Weasley that she was marrying.” The words are blurted out quickly, and Fee cannot help but recall a old Muggle saying that she learnt as a child: treat the truth like a plaster - announce it all in one go, and the repercussions won’t hurt so much, but if you drag it out, it will end up hurting more in the long run.
Walburga's tone is so shrill, it quickly attracts the attention of every guest in the entire house. “WHAT?!”
“Are you sure?” Fee quickly asks, recognizing that the situation is now spiralling out of control.
“Of course I'm sure, Fee, I wouldn't say something like that if it wasn't true or if I wasn't sure of it!” Ophelia retorts, before turning to Walburga. “I knew you'd react like this, that's why I didn't want to mention it to you today of all days.”
“So you were going to wait until I received my issue of Witch Weekly while on my honeymoon and saw the article?” Walburga snaps, slapping the younger witch in fury. “I knew you were a disgrace to the Selwynns, but I never dreamt you were this disgusting. Attending the wedding of two blood traitors! No self-respecting pure-blood would even think about doing that!”
“I had to go; I would have lost my job at Witch Weekly if I didn't!” Ophelia cries out. “Please, Walburga, I'm really sorry but it wasn't my fault; you were the one who demanded that I write an article on your wedding, and my editor insisted that if I wrote about your wedding, I had to write about Cedrella's too -”
“- Don't say her name!” Walburga hisses, interrupting Ophelia's panicked tirade. “From now on, that name is forbidden! She married a blood traitor, which makes her one too and there are no blood traitors in my family!”
“You can't just disown her like that!”
“Oh, can't I?” the furious bride snarls, her eyes blazing with utmost fury. “Just you watch me!”
Turning away from Ophelia, her astounded friends and her new husband, Walburga marches towards the doors of the ballroom, blasting objects out of her way with her wand. It takes a few seconds for Fee's shock to fade, but once it has, she rushes after her friend, silently praising the common sense of the guests who had moved out of Walburga’s path; she hasn’t seen Walburga in such a furious mood, and is reluctant to consider what would have happened had the guests remained in her way. It takes seconds for her to ascend the stairs and follow the dark-haired woman into the drawing room, several curious guests trailing behind her eager to witness the scene. When Walburga pauses, Fee seizes the moment to stand in front of her friend and places her hands on her shoulders.
“Wali, I know you want to disown Cedrella and considering she's a traitor who’s betrayed and embarrassed your family, I have no objections to you doing that,” she says with as much calmness as she can muster. “However, enough of a scene has been caused. Today is meant to be the best day of your life; do not let that traitor and that Septic Weasel idiot take your happiness away from you.”
A few of the guests, including Alphard who had fought his way to the front of the crowd, cannot restrain their giggles at Fee's deliberate mispronunciation of a name they had been forbidden to use ever since Septimus' Sorting into Gryffindor seventeen years previously. Even so, Walburga's mood is unyielding and she pushes the redhead aside violently to aim her wand at the tapestry that detailes the Black family tree. With a silent curse, Cedrella's position on the tree - already intertwined with Septimus' name; a result of the tree’s connection to the Ministry’s official records - is replaced with a disproportionately large burn mark.
“Walburga.” Tom Riddle’s voice is calm and rational, but there is a grave edge to his tone that prompts Walburga to take a deep breath and turn around. “Since when did you hurt your best friend like that?”
It is then that Walburga notices blood running down the side of Fee's face, and realizes that not only the sound of Fee's head hitting the nearby table been masked by the sound of her curse blasting Cedrella off of the family tree, but that it was her who caused the injury.
However, before she can speak, Irma looms out from the crowd and snaps at Tom. “Don't criticize my daughter like that!”
“Somebody's got to,” Tom retorts, his eyes narrowing in annoyance. “Fee could have been seriously injured!”
“Clearly, she isn’t,” is the older woman's scornful reply.
Fee clings on to Tom with one hand, the dizziness in her head growing, while the other tries in vain to stem the bleeding from her head.
“Walburga?” she whispers. Please defend me, are the unspoken words she wants to say, but cannot.
When they are met with silence from the emotionally-torn bride, Tom puts his arm around Fee's slender body. Without warning, they Disapparate, leaving a speechless Walburga staring at where they had been standing moments prior as the feeling of guilt begins to overwhelm her.
I wish that I could turn back time and change what happened. I wish that I hadn’t destroyed everything that I loved. I wish that I had made different choices that night.
I wish that wishes came true.
I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.
Author's Note: If you've read the original version of this novel, you'll recognize this as chapter one and three, with a bit of extra substance to fill in the gaps that I originally had. I'd love to hear what you think of the improvements, or if you're a new pair of eyes then how you're finding the story so far! That little grey box down there looks hungry... won't you feed it with a line or two? ;)
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